Multiple Fatalities in Deadly Airshow Weekend

Accidents highlight inherent risks airshow performers assume.

Multiple performers were killed during a tragic weekend for the airshow circuit that included three separate fatal incidents.

One of the first occurred on Saturday at the Bournemouth Air Festival in England, when a Royal Air Force pilot who belonged to the elite Red Arrows aerobatic team died after the Hawk T-1 he was piloting crashed under unknown circumstances.

A second incident involved veteran stunt show pilot Bryan Jensen, who was killed while performing at the Kansas City Aviation Expo Air Show on Saturday. According to witnesses, Jensen’s custom-built biplane known as “the Beast” entered what looked like a controlled downward spiral before it impacted the ground.

On Sunday, wing walker Todd Green died after losing his grip and falling 200 feet from the wing of a Stearman biplane. Green was trying to perform a transfer from the biplane to a helicopter at an airshow in Selfridge, Michigan, when the accident occurred.

According to the International Council of Air Shows (ICAS), Green’s death is the fourth airshow fatality during North American airshows in 2011. While the weekend’s accidents highlight the inherent risks airshow performers assume, many airshow advocates have responded to the sudden onset of publicity with statements defending the industry.

Performers take on such risks willingly, they say, and pose little risk to the crowds who flock to see them. According to the ICAS, there has not been a single spectator fatality at a North American airshow in more than 50 years, although there have been a number of spectator fatalities in other parts of the world, the most famous recent incident being the crash of a Ukranian Air Force Sukhoi Su-27 into the crowd at a July 2002 airshow in Lviv, Ukraine, which killed 77 and injured 543.