In past years, aerobatic flyer Nancy A. Lynn had wanted to perform at the Culpeper Air Fest in Virginia the loops, rolls and spins she had so perfected. But one year, she was thwarted by mechanical problems, and in another it was inclement weather that kept Lynn at her Annapolis-area home.
On Saturday, sometime after performers from the Bealeton Flying Circus walked along the wings of a plane in midair, she made her debut at the Air Fest, as a crowd of about 3,000 watched. Lynn's teenage son Peter Scott Muntean was there at a microphone, her show's announcer.
They witnessed a tragedy.
In her German-built Extra 300 L Standard, Lynn began a classic aerobatic trick - the snap roll, a series of rapid, horizontal spins. But suddenly her plane crashed, then skidded and erupted in flames about 1 p.m. on a grassy area of the north side of the Culpeper Regional Airport's runway, officials said.
Lynn was flown by helicopter to the University of Virginia Medical Center in Richmond, where she died about 11:45 p.m., said Sgt. F.L. Tyler of the Virginia State Police.
Spectators, including Culpeper County Administrator Frank T. Bossio, rushed to the burning aircraft in a rescue attempt.
"I just looked back over my left shoulder and I saw the aircraft just coming down," Bossio said. "The wing tip caught the ground, tipped over and caught on fire. I ran over there and the airplane was on fire. ... I just began ripping pieces off the airplane. Some other folks came with fire extinguishers."
Bossio was treated at an area hospital for second-degree burns to his hands. Yesterday, he said he could only think of Lynn's son, who calmed the crowd after the crash.
"He told the crowd, `OK, we had an incident, calm down,'" Bossio said. "If you can imagine ... watching your mother crash in an airplane. He showed wisdom, maturity and courage well beyond his years."
The state medical examiner in Richmond will perform an autopsy. The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the cause of the crash, Tyler said.
It was not the first crash in Lynn's family, nor the only tragedy.
In August 2000, Lynn's husband and fellow pilot, Scott E. Muntean, died of brain cancer.
It was on an airplane flight to Baltimore from Utah in 1979 that the two first met. They married in 1983, and together they owned Lynn Aviation at the Bay Bridge Airport on Kent Island, where they taught new pilots.
Scott Muntean lost his left eye in a plane crash in a cornfield in Queenstown in 1993, while practicing loops. He went back to flying six weeks later.
After her husband's death, Lynn kept the business going, teaching scores of pilots the tricks she had mastered.
In October 2003, her business partner, Mark D. Damisch, 37, of Arlington, Va., died in a plane crash over a soybean field on the Eastern Shore.
Before her flying career, Lynn, a native of Dayton, Ohio, worked as a manager for Procter & Gamble Inc. In 1997, she won second place in the International Aerobatics Club's East Coast advanced division.
In 1988, her Web site says, she discovered aerobatic flight while studying for her pilot's license. "One spin and her entire life turned `upside down,'" reads a brief biography on the Web site. "She has been passionate about the aerial ballet ever since. After a year of taking aerobatic instruction, she cashed in her Procter & Gamble profit sharing to buy a Pitts S2B aerobatic biplane. Her aerobatic career was launched!"
In a 1998 article in The Sun, Lynn took a reporter on a flight, soaring 2,000 feet over the Bay Bridge. She maneuvered the plane in dips and swoops - then it surged upward at a 45-degree angle. She nudged a stick to her left and the plane flipped upside down.
"Why do I like doing this?" she asked. "Because I like to see the earth from a different perspective."