Airshow accidents don't 'curb the passion'

August 24, 2011

To the close-knit community of airshow performers, it’s “like losing a family member” when a fatal accident occurs, said wing walker Jane Wicker.

“It’s painful when it happens. It makes you re-evaluate your act and look at additional safety measures,” she said in an interview. “But it really doesn’t curb your passion at all.”

Wicker reflected on the airshow community’s feelings after accidents during weekend airshows claimed the lives of pilot Bryan Jensen in Kansas City, Mo., on Aug. 20, and wing walker Todd Green at Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Michigan on Aug. 21.

Green, 48, had been attempting to transfer from a Stearman biplane to a helicopter when he lost his grip and fell 200 feet to the ground. Wicker had seen him successfully complete the performance on other occasions, when he would grab onto the runners of a helicopter, which would then lower him to the ground to complete the act, she said.

The Detroit Free Press reported Aug. 24 that Green’s family planned to establish a memorial fund in his name. Both accidents remained under investigation.

Wicker said she knew Green “very well,” and had traveled with him in May to a memorial service for wing walker Amanda Franklin, 25, who died May 27 following a March 12 airshow accident in which the aircraft lost power and crashed.

Asked what made Wicker attempt her first wing walk in 1990, she replied, “It looked like a lot of fun.”

“It exceeded my expectations,” she added. “Once you do it you almost can’t stop because it’s so much fun.”

When an accident occurs, it reminds you to “take a second look at all the safety precautions.”

“The general thing is, what we do has an inherent risk to it, and we all know that,” she said.

Wicker was scheduled to perform at the Greenwood Lake Airshow in New Jersey Aug. 26 through 28, and was watching the track of Hurricane Irene as it moved toward the East Coast.

Look for a feature on Wicker in an upcoming issue of AOPA Pilot.

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz | Aviation Writer

Dan Namowitz is an aviation writer and flight instructor. He has been a pilot since 1985 and an instructor since 1990.