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Archive for Monday, April 23, 2007

Pilot in Blue Angels crash identified

April 23, 2007

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— Investigators looked through wreckage Sunday to determine what caused a Navy Blue Angel jet to crash during a maneuver, while the military identified the fallen pilot as a 32-year-old who was performing in one of his first air shows with the team.

Lt. Cmdr. Kevin J. Davis of Pittsfield, Mass., was in his second year with the Blue Angels, the team known for its high-speed, aerobatic demonstrations, Lt. Cmdr. Garrett Kasper said.

At Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort in South Carolina, the site of Saturday's crash, a somber crowd watched Sunday as six jets flew overhead in formation. Smoke streamed behind one of the jets as it peeled away from the others to complete the "missing man formation," the traditional salute for a lost military aviator.

"The spirit of the pilot is in the arms of a loving God," said Rob Reider, a minister who was the announcer for the air show.

The crash happened as the team was performing its final maneuver Saturday afternoon during the air show. The team's six pilots were joining from behind the crowd of thousands to form a triangle shape known as a delta, but Davis' jet did not join the formation.

Moments later, his jet crashed just outside Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, hitting homes in a neighborhood about 35 miles northwest of Hilton Head Island, S.C. Debris - some of it on fire - rained on homes. Eight people on the ground were injured, and some homes were damaged.

Davis, a decorated pilot who joined the Blue Angels in 2005, had previously served as a narrator for the air shows, Reider said. He also handled celebrity flights, and flew with stars such as singer Kelly Clarkson, actor James Franco and University of Oklahoma football coach Bob Stoops.

His parents were in the crowd when the plane crashed, said Tom McGill, a former neighbor in Davis' hometown.

The squadron's six, F/A-18 Hornets routinely streak low over crowds of thousands at supersonic speeds, coming within feet, sometimes inches, of each other. The pilots, among the Navy's most elite, are so thoroughly trained and their routines so practiced that deadly crashes are rare; the last one happened in 1999.

The Navy said it could be at three weeks before it announces what may have caused the crash. The squadron returned to its home base of Pensacola Naval Air Station late Sunday.

In the last fatal Blue Angel crash, a pilot and crewmate died while practicing for air shows with the five other Blue Angels jets at a base in Georgia. Saturday's crash was the 26th fatality in the team's 60-year history.

Friends and neighbors of Davis in his Massachusetts hometown said Sunday he was fascinated with planes from the time he was a child.

"He was fascinated with airplanes from the time he was little," former neighbor Betty Sweeney said. "He knew what he wanted to do, and he did it. That's the only relief, that he went doing what he wanted to do."

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