Investigation into deadly plane crash at PDK air show continues

Flags were at half-staff at DeKalb-Peachtree Airport on Mon., May 16, 2016, after a deadly crash at the Good Neighbor Day Air Show. JOHN SPINK / JSPINK@AJC.COM
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Flags were at half-staff at DeKalb-Peachtree Airport on Mon., May 16, 2016, after a deadly crash at the Good Neighbor Day Air Show. JOHN SPINK / JSPINK@AJC.COM

Officials investigating a deadly plane crash during a weekend air show in DeKalb County plan to focus on several areas.

“We will focus on the pilot, the plane, and the environment,” National Transportation Safety Board senior investigator Ralph Hicks told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Monday. “Environment includes the wind but also other factors such as sun angle, possibility of turbulence, etc.”

Pilot Greg Connell of South Carolina was killed Saturday during the Good Neighbor Day Air Show at DeKalb-Peachtree Airport, an event that featured vintage aircraft as well as specially-designed stunt planes.

Raw video shot by a woman shows two planes cross paths close to the ground. The planes climb into the air and descend as part of a dive maneuver. The other plane — Connell's custom-built biplane, known as Wolfpitts — fails to pull back up from the maneuver, hits the ground and goes up in flames.

Mark McKay and Scott Slade with News 95.5 and AM 750 WSB emceed the show.

“I see a tire fly off and then it catches fire in the grassy area,” McKay told Channel 2 Action News.

Slade told those in the audience “to turn your children away from the field.”

Starr Jones of Atlanta watched as the tiny plane went down. She covered her young daughter’s eyes as best she could.

“It happened right in front of where I was standing,” Jones said. “It was awful.

“It was two tiny planes that were doing stunts. They kept crossing paths and the next thing you know one of them touched the ground and started rolling and rolling and then burst into flames and the plane just tore apart.”

Gary Ward, the pilot of the other plane in the air at the time of the crash, said he didn’t hear any calls of distress over the radio or know his friend was in trouble.

“Greg flew underneath me and I had no idea Greg crashed like a second later,” Ward told Channel 2.

“I came back in the show for the next maneuver. We did individual maneuvers at that point, and I went ahead and did my next maneuver, not knowing that Greg had crashed.”

Ward is described as Connell’s instructor and mentor on the “meet the pilot” page of Connell’s website. Connell, a University of South Carolina graduate, started flight training in 1989, following in his father’s footsteps by training with local legend Al Patton.

In a 2008 story in the Augusta Chronicle, Connell said the same adrenaline rush that attracted him to motorcycle racing as a young man drew him to aerobatic flying.

“That’s the rush,” he said. “I just get obsessed. I mean, if I’m playing golf, I need to play golf every day. If I’m playing music, I have to play in a band and play guitar every day. Once I became aware of all the things I could do flying, well, that just got away from me, too.”

Connell had planned to participate in air shows through the summer, including the Shaw Air Expo this weekend in South Carolina.

"Please keep Greg's Family and Friends in your prayers," someone wrote in a Facebook post shared more than 640 times on Connell's page reads. "There are no words to describe what we all are feeling right now. God Bless & Godspeed Greg."

Airport director Mario Evans said this was the first accident in the PDK air show’s 30-year history.

“It’s a traumatic incident,” Evans said. “I knew the pilot personally, so I don’t want to go any further. I’m just emotional.”

An official investigation into the deadly air show crash could take up to a year to complete, the NTSB said.

The wreckage was moved to a hangar in Griffin, WSB Radio reported.