Blue Angels pilot dies

first_imgBEAUFORT, S.C. – A Navy Blue Angel jet crashed during an air show Saturday, plunging into a neighborhood of small homes and trailers and killing the pilot. Eight people on the ground were injured, and several homes were damaged. Witnesses said the planes were flying in formation during the show at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort about 4 p.m. when one dropped below the trees and crashed, sending up clouds of smoke. 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 wreckage hit “plenty of houses and mobile homes.” “Our squadron and the entire U.S. Navy are grieving the loss of a great American, a great Naval officer and a great friend,” Walley said. Kasper said all possible causes of the crash are under investigation, and it could take at least three weeks for an official cause to be released. John Sauls, who lives near the crash site, said the planes were banking 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. The Blue Angels fly F/A-18 Hornets at high speeds in close formations, and their pilots are considered the Navy’s elite. They don’t wear the traditional G-suits that most jet pilots use to avoid blacking out during maneuvers. The suits inflate around the lower body to keep blood in the brain but could cause a pilot to bump the control stick – a potentially deadly move when flying inches from other planes. Instead, Blue Angels manage G-forces by tensing their abdominal muscles. The last Blue Angel crash that killed a pilot was in 1999, when a pilot and crewmate were killed while practicingat a base in Georgia. More than 100,000 people had been expected at Saturday’s show. The elite team is based at Pensacola Naval Air Station. The 2007 team has a new flight leader and two new pilots; Blue Angel pilots traditionally serve two-year rotations. Kasper said the team would return to Florida on this afternoon. “We will regroup,” he said.160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! “It was just a big fireball coming at me,” said Voegeli, 37. “It was just taking pine trees and just clipping them.” Witnesses said metal and plastic wreckage – some of it on fire – rained into the neighborhood about 35 miles northwest of Hilton Head Island. The crash occurred during the final minutes of the air show, said Lt. Cmdr. Anthony Walley, a Blue Angel pilot. The pilots were executing a maneuver that called for all six planes to join from behind the crowd and form a Delta triangle, said Lt. Cmdr. Garrett D. Kasper, spokesman for the Blue Angels. One plane did not rejoin the formation. Walley said the name of the pilot would not be released until relatives were notified. A Navy statement said the pilot had been on the team for two years. last_img