Blue Angel Jet Crashes at Air Show

By Bruce Smith
Associated Press
Sunday, April 22, 2007

BEAUFORT, S.C., April 21 -- A Navy Blue Angel fighter jet crashed during an air show Saturday, plunging into a neighborhood of small homes and trailers and killing the pilot, the county coroner said.

It was the first death of a Blue Angel pilot since 1999.

Witnesses said the Navy aerial-demonstration team, made up of six planes, was flying in formation at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort when one jet dropped below the tree line and crashed, sending up clouds of smoke.

It was not immediately known whether anyone on the ground was injured.

Raymond Voegeli, a plumber, was backing out of a driveway when the plane ripped through a grove of pine trees, dousing his truck in flames and debris. He said the wreckage hit "plenty of houses and mobile homes." At least one home was set on fire.

"It was just a big fireball coming at me," said Voegeli, 37. "It was just taking pine trees and just clipping them."

County Coroner Curt Copeland said the pilot was killed, but he did not identify him. Copeland said there was a lot of debris at the crash site. He described the scene as horrific.

John Sauls, who lives near the crash site, said the F/A-18A Hornets were banking back and forth before one disappeared and a plume of smoke shot up.

"It's one of those surreal moments when you go, 'No, I didn't just see what I saw,' " Sauls said.

Joe Farrell, who had a plane on display at Saturday's air show, told the Beaufort Gazette that the Navy jet largely appeared in control.

"It looked like it was in absolute control all the way into the ground," he said. "We watched the guys try to reform. He made the turn and slid right into the ground."

More than 100,000 people were expected to attend the Beaufort Air Show, 35 miles northwest of Hilton Head Island. The Blue Angels were the main attraction.

At the Blue Angels command headquarters at Pensacola Naval Air Station, the petty officer on duty said he had "no comment at this time."

Phone calls were not answered at the Marine base in Beaufort.

The Blue Angels were formed in 1946 to promote public interest in naval aviation. Flying F/A-18s painted navy blue, the team performs nationally at air shows, spring through fall, executing highly synchronized aerial acrobatics that bring the fighters within feet of each other at high speed.

Twenty-four Blue Angel pilots have died in accidents, including the one killed Saturday. In 1999, two were killed when an F/A-18 crashed into a stand of pine trees in Georgia as the team practiced for a show.

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