PARKERSBURG - An official with the Mid-Ohio Valley's biennial air show expressed surprise and loss Monday at the death of stunt performer and wing walker Jane Wicker on Saturday after she made an impression on local residents last October.
"The crowd just loved her and she seemed to love them back with setting up a booth and talking to anyone who approached her at the air show," said Donna Rusche, co-chair of the 2012 Air Expo at the Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Airport. "She is genuinely going to be missed as my friend, a performer and an aviatress."
The Federal Aviation Administration on Monday opened an investigation into the crash during the Vectren Dayton Air Show that killed Wicker, 44, and her pilot, Charlie Schwenker, 64. The National Transportation Safety Board has also started a separate investigation into the incident.
Around 12:45 p.m. Saturday the plane turned upside-down with Wicker sitting on top of the wing and then the craft tilted and crashed to the ground, being engulfed by flames. Air show announcers then asked parents to turn children away from the scene and stay off cell phones to keep lines clear for emergency medical service officials to be able to communicate.
"It is so sad that (Wicker) is gone because she was always pumped to go up and do a show," Rusche said. "But, there is always a risk going up and performing and she knew that risk."
Along with being a pilot and FAA agency budget analyst, Wicker was also one of the few female wing walkers and promoted aviation as often as possible.
"The aviation world lost a great advocate because she spent as much time as she could talking to kids about how great it was to be a pilot and performer," Rusche said. "She really loved what she did and air shows will be less fun without her."
Wicker made such an impression on the estimated 23,000-24,000 spectators at the 2012 Air Expo in the Mid-Ohio Valley that organizers had already spoken to her about the 2014 event.
"We had already made contact following the last air show and all of us were looking forward to working together again," Rusche said. "It is just a terrible tragedy we won't get to see her again."
Preliminary findings about what caused the crash are expected later this week, but officials with the NTSB and FAA said it might take months to know whether the pilot or a mechanical problem caused the crash.
On Monday Wicker's website, www.wingwalking.com, was offline and her Facebook page included a post announcing her and Schwenker's deaths with more than 1,000 comments.