WILLOW GROVE, Pa. (AP) – A military pilot and radar intercept officer aboard a F-14 Tomcat died Sunday when their jet crashed as horrified air show spectators watched from their porches and pools.
The jet was taking part in the second-to-last performance at the Willow Grove 2000 Sounds of Freedom air show when it banked steeply, wavered and plunged into a wooded area about 100 yards from the air base here about 4:43 p.m., authorities said.
The fighter was based at Oceana Naval Air Station in Virginia Beach, Va., said Mike Maus, a spokesman for the U.S. Atlantic Fleet, in Norfolk, Va.
The Navy today identified the pilot as Lt. William Joseph Dey, 30, of Hightstown, N. J., and Radar Intercept Officer Lt. David Erick Bergstrom, 31, of Annandale, Va. Both men had more than 1,000 hours in the F-14; Dey was an instructor pilot in the VF 101 fighter squadron.
Though the plane sent flames and smoke billowing from a wooded area at the end of the runway, no civilian injuries were reported and no structures were hit, said Levent Aydin of Montgomery County emergency dispatch services.
Aydin said three emergency personnel were treated for injuries at the crash scene, including a military firefighter who was transported back to the base 15 miles north of Philadelphia.
The Tomcat apparently was displaying a landing “wave-off” maneuver, coming in at slow speed to make a landing and then circling for another attempt as if waved off from the first, said KYW-AM reporter Al Novak, who was at the show and witnessed the crash.
Bruce Baldus, 34, said he was in the crowd watching as the plane turned, faltered, and sank toward the trees.
“When he got below the trees, you could tell he was in trouble. It looked like it fell out of the air,” Baldus said. “It was only a second, and then there was smoke and a huge fireball.”
Maus said a panel of senior naval aviators will be convened to investigate the cause of the accident. The Federal Aviation Administration also will be involved since the crash happened on civilian property.
It was the second deadly crash of a military plane at an air show in the past three months. In March, an Air Force F-16 fighter jet crashed while performing maneuvers as part of an air show near Kingsville Naval Air Station in Texas, killing the pilot.