The Federal Aviation Administration has launched an investigation of one of its own after an agency budget analyst who moonlighted as a wing-walker died in a fiery crash during a weekend air show in Ohio.
Jane Wicker, 44, and pilot Charlie Schwenker, 64, died Saturday performing an aerial stunt at the Vectren Dayton Air Show.
Wicker, the FAA employee, was also a pilot, according to her personal website. The National Transportation Safety Board is also investigating the crash, and an autopsy and toxicology test will be conducted separately.
Video from the event shows the small plane turn upside-down as the performer sits on top of the wing. The plane then tilts and crashes to the ground at the Dayton International Airport.
The plane immediately burst into a fireball as a crowd of thousands, including Wicker's fiancé, watched in horror. Announcers at the show asked parents to turn their children away from the fiery scene. The show was canceled for the rest of the day.
"When I saw the incident, pretty much at first it was a little bit of a shock. Most people probably realized that this was an unsurvivable incident," air show fan Michael Haisley said.
Preliminary findings about what caused the crash are expected later this week but the NTSB says it might take months to know whether he stunt itself or a mechanical problem contributed to the crash.
The bodies of Wicker and Schwenker will be released to their families after today's autopsies.
"We're not going to have any kind of determinations of findings or probable cause at this point," NTSB investigator Jason Aguilera said.
Wicker, a mother of two teenagers, was a star on the air-show circuit and one of the nation's few female wing walkers who dazzled crowds with dramatic maneuvers. Wicker has been wing-walking since 1990, when she answered an ad because she thought "it would be an exciting way to enter the air-show business," according to her website.
Wing-walking is performed only a few hundred feet above the ground, often without a harness or tether. It's an art that requires precise timing between the pilot and walker.
Kris Nuss had worked with the wing-walker and pilot before.
"Absolutely fabulous people," she said over the weekend. "I was amazed at how much trust both of them had in each other."
In a post on Wicker's website, the stuntwoman explains what she loved most about her job.
"There is nothing that feels more exhilarating or freer to me than the wind and sky rushing by me as the earth rolls around my head," the post says. "I'm alive up there. To soar like a bird and touch the sky puts me in a place where I feel I totally belong. It's the only thing I've done that I've never questioned, never hesitated about and always felt was my destiny."
She also answered a frequent question: What about the risk?
"I feel safer on the wing of my airplane than I do driving to the airport," she wrote. "Why? Because I'm in control of those risks and not at the mercy of those other drivers."
- Disasters & Accidents