“Look away” are the last words a mother expects to tell her child during an air show.
But that’s what parents were asked to say on Saturday, after a stunt at a local airport ended in twisted metal, flame and a veteran pilot dead.
Pilot Greg Connell, of South Carolina, crashed and died Saturday during an airshow at DeKalb-Peachtree Airport. The event, which drew vintage aircraft as well as specially designed stunt planes, was called the Good Neighbor Day Air Show.
Sarah Ngungu, who recently moved to Duluth, said she was thankful her 2-year-old son was in a stroller and she could turn the whole thing around, but he watched the plane strike the grass.
“We are doing our best helping him work through it,” Ngungu said.
She and her husband encouraged their son to express himself verbally as much as a 2-year-old could. He wanted to play with his toy plane Sunday, his mother said.
“We’re just trying to make sure he knows that he’s safe and that even though sometimes scary and sad things happen, he can always talk to us about it,” Ngungu said. “He’s definitely more clingy today and getting tons of extra reassuring hugs, kisses and cuddles.”
Raw video shot by a woman depicts the carnage: Two planes cross paths close to the ground. The camera follows one as it climbs into the blue and dives against the wind. The other plane fails to pull back up and hits the ground hard.
The plane hit the ground and broke into pieces, said WSB radio announcer Mark McKay, who emceed the show.
“I see a tire fly off and then it catches fire in the grassy area,” McKay said.
McKay’s colleague, WSB radio announcer Scott Slade, then took the microphone.
“Ladies and gentleman, I want you to turn your children away from the field,” he said.
Starr Jones, of Atlanta, watched as the tiny plane went down. She averted 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,” she said. “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.”
The pilot of the second plane in the air at the time, Gary Ward, told Channel 2 Action News 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 said.
Connell’s custom-built biplane, known as Wolfpitts, hit the ground after failing to pull out of a dive maneuver. Ward is called Connell’s instructor and mentor on the “meet the pilot” page of Connell’s website.
“I came back in the show for the next maneuver,” Ward said. “We did individual maneuvers at that point, and I went ahead and did my next maneuver, not knowing that Greg had crashed.”
Connell started flight training in 1989, following in his father’s footsteps by training with local legend Al Patton.
Airport director Mario Evans said this was the first accident in the 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 could take up to a year to complete, according to Channel 2.
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