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Air show, marred by fatal plane crash, still breaks even

Whether Thunder Over the Blue Ridge Open House & Air Show returns next year remains to be decided

November 01, 2011|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD | matthew.umstead@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — The 2011 Thunder Over the Blue Ridge Open House & Air Show, despite being cut short by the fiery crash of a post-World War II aircraft that killed a pilot, met all of its financial obligations thanks to the generosity of performers, sponsors and the community, organizers announced Tuesday.

"Everyone gave back, something, somewhere," said Col. Brian Truman, vice commander of the 167th Airlift Wing Air National Guard and president of the board for Thunder Over the Blue Ridge Inc.

Whether the show returns next year to the National Guard unit's base at Eastern West Virginia Regional Airport remains to be decided, Truman said.

There are a number of issues "on the table" to be considered in deciding whether the airlift wing will continue to host the show, including budget concerns, Truman said.

"The base is facing budget cuts, and that will have to be considered," Truman said.

The airlift wing has allocated between $50,000 and $100,000 for the open house each of the last two years, Truman said.

A decision on whether to hold a show next year could very well be made by the end of year, Truman said.

"I hope we're able to say something to the community late this fall," Truman said. "We queried our sponsors and the chamber (of Commerce), and received just very good, positive responses from that."

Truman said more than 80 percent of the responses received were positive, but did acknowledge there were a few negative ones.

Air show organizers were able to at least partially compensate 25 nonprofit groups that operated food and beverage booths for the show using about $21,000 in donations that United Way of the Eastern Panhandle received from spectators at the gate, according to Jan Callen, executive director of the United Way.

Officials estimated about 20,000 people turned out for the first day of this year's show.  

Thunder Over the Blue Ridge Inc., which was created through a collaboration of the United Way, the 167th Airlift Wing and the Eastern West Regional Airport Authority, was left with less than $2,000 after resolving the financial issues created by the show's abrupt end, officials said.    

Air show organizers were able to break even because performers cut event organizers a substantial break on what they were to receive, while sponsors of what was to be a two-day event stood behind their commitments even though some didn't get everything they were to receive, Truman said.

Nicolas "Nic" Diehl, vice president of the Thunder Over the Blue Ridge board of directors, said he was "scared to death" that the organization would not be able to meet all of its financial obligations, given the tragic end to this year's show.  

Meanwhile, the diversion of the donations at the gate to help the nonprofit groups leaves the United Way with a significant $50,000 gap to fill in its 2011 campaign, according to Callen.

Last year's event generated more than $100,000 for the United Way, but the budget for last year's show — about $250,000 — was greater than this year's event, which was budgeted at about $175,000, according to Callen, the treasurer for Thunder Over the Blue Ridge, a nonprofit organization.

United Way's funding loss, if not addressed in the ongoing 2011 campaign, could negatively impact programs that provide hot meals, warm clothing for children, and utility and child care assistance to those in need, according to the charity.

United Way campaign Chairman Paul Espinosa said the organization had raised about 29 percent of its $861,000 goal as of Monday.

While the amount raised this year is a little ahead of last year's annual fundraising campaign, Callen said its hard to compare year-to-year because donations could simply be coming in earlier this year.

The United Way on Tuesday was presented with a $1,000 donation for 2011 campaign that was generated by fundraisers held during the air show, according to Truman.

Donations to United Way of the Eastern Panhandle can be made via the Internet at www.uwayep.org or by calling 304-263-0603. Individuals with additional questions on how they can help may contact Vickie Shean at ext. 223.

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