Stunt flight turns into disaster Veteran pilot crashes, dies before thousands at air show

September 24, 1990|By Susan Schoenberger Sheridan Lyons of The Sun's Carroll County Bureau contributed to this article.

Thousands of spectators watched yesterday afternoon as a veteran acrobatic pilot elected to perform an extra spin during a diving stunt and crashed during an air show at Martin State Airport.

The pilot, Jack Buford Poage, 62, who managed the Carroll County Airport, was killed in the accident. He was one of the final acrobatic performers scheduled on the air show program, which ended abruptly with the crash.

At 2 p.m., under a crisp blue sky, Mr. Poage took off in his red-and-white 1989 Pitts S-2B biplane to begin a program he had performed many times. Five to 10 minutes into his segment, he was scheduled to perform three downward spins during one of his maneuvers. But he attempted a fourth spin and had too little altitude to pull out of the dive, witnesses said.

The single-engine plane slammed into the ground on its belly in a grassy field near the main runway of the Middle River airport.

Rescue workers pulled Mr. Poage from the wreckage and took him by ambulance to Franklin Square Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

The state police, Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the crash.

"If he'd had another 20 feet of air, he would have made it," said Bob Cadwalader, a colleague of Mr. Poage who witnessed the crash.

Mr. Cadwalader, a pilot who writes for the monthly Atlantic Flyer magazine, said he has seen Mr. Poage perform the stunt, with all four spins, several times.

It involves a vertical climb to about 1,500 feet above the runway, then a maneuver that puts the plane into a nose-down position, he said.

The pilot cuts the engine and spins downward in a corkscrew pattern -- called a flat spin or a graveyard spin -- before re-engaging the engine and pulling up the plane's nose.

"Poage waited too long to recover from the spin," Mr. Cadwalader said.

Another witness said Mr. Poage had restarted the engine and was pulling out of the dive just before the crash.

Spectators gasped and screamed when the plane hit the ground, said Webster Alexander, a student pilot who was photographing the performance.

"There was no indication whatsoever that anything was wrong," he said. "It's not a very difficult maneuver when you're in a stunt plane. It's an attention getter."

The air show, sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce for Essex-Middle River, had been rescheduled for yesterday because of Saturday's rain. Carol Riley, a spokeswoman for the airport, said the crowd was estimated at between 15,000 and 20,000.

Mr. Poage of Westminster has been involved in aviation in Maryland for nearly 50 years, starting as a mechanic at an airfield in Rutherford, Mr. Cadwalader said. "He was one of the old-time pilots around."

With his wife, June, Mr. Poage owned Westair Inc., a firm that has been operating the Carroll County Airport since 1979.

The Poages recently had worked with county officials to gain funding for $13.5 million in improvements to the airport.

In a recent interview about the airport, Mr. Poage had talked about the need to replace the county's antiquated instrument-landing system. "You can't get in and out when the weather's bad," he said. "There's good, better, best, and this is only good."

The improvements -- considered a centerpiece for the county's economic development -- will include a new runway, upgrading the hangars and apron, and an up-to-date instrument-landing system.

Mr. Poage, also a banner puller and aerial photographer, had helped air traffic more than double at the Westminster-based airport in the last five years.

"He and June together have turned that airport around into something that every Carroll County citizen can be proud of," said Julia W. Gouge, a county commissioner. "It's going to be a terrific loss to the county and to the airport."

Ms. Gouge, a personal friend of the couple, described Mr. Poage as friendly, kind and easy-going, though a man of few words.

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