It’s a common thought – what happens at the precise moment we pass from this life to the next. However, it’s an extremely rare event when that moment is captured in a photograph. Such was the case on June 22, 2013 at the Vectren Dayton Air Show in Dayton, Ohio when an eagle-eye noticed that one small section of a spectacular hi-definition, high-speed photograph of a plane crash froze in time the instant a female wing walker, Jane Wicker, met her end.
Jane Wicker – wing walker
45-year-old Jane Wicker was a Federal Aviation Administration budget analyst with a backbone made of steel. Financial accountant by day, Wicker began her daredevil career in 1990 after answering an advertisement from the Flying Circus Airshow in Bealeton, Virginia. After years of practice, she became one of the finest wing walkers in the United States.
“What you see us do out there is after an enormous amount of practice and fine tuning, not to mention the airplane goes through microscopic care. It is a managed risk and that is what keeps us alive.”
In 2013, Walker signed up to entertain thousands of spectators at the Vectren Dayton Air Show, one of the country’s premiere aviation events. She planned to hang underneath the plane’s wing by her feet and sit on the bottom of the airplane while it was upside-down. A week before the show, she told WDTN TV:
“I’m never nervous or scared because I know if I do everything as I usually do, everything’s going to be just fine.”
The show began on a Saturday with many showgoers anxious to see the celebrated wing walker in action. As had been rehearsed a dozen times before, the 450 HP Stearmans airplane glided towards the crowd then rolled with Wicker sitting atop the wing as the airshow announcer whipped the crown into a frenzy:
“Now she’s still on that far side. Keep an eye on Jane. Keep an eye on Charlie. Watch this! Jane Wicker, sitting on top of the world!”
Suddenly, without warning, the plane tilted, then slammed into the ground, erupting into flames as spectators screamed and ran for cover.
Ian Hoyt, an aviation photographer and licensed pilot from Findlay, was at the show with his girlfriend. Hoyt was taking photos as the plane passed by and had just raised his camera to take another shot.
“Then I realized they were too low and too slow. And before I knew it, they hit the ground.”
Another spectator, Shawn Warwick of New Knoxville, told the Dayton Daily News that he was watching the flight through binoculars.
“I noticed it was upside-down really close to the ground. She was sitting on the bottom of the plane. I saw it just go right into the ground and explode.”
Another spectator told reporters she could see a look of concern on Walker’s face as the plane dipped towards the ground.
“She looked very scared. And then the plane just crashed.”
Walker and 64-year-old pilot Charlie Schwenker were killed instantly.
A photographer captured a spectacular photograph of the moment the plane touched the ground. The photo was shot using a high-speed lens allowing it to capture support bars, windshield, and thousands of broken pieces of the airplane, frozen in time, as they flew through the air. Unknown to the photographer, at the bottom of the shot, was the haunting image of Jane Walker, the moment she touched the Earth for the last time.
The NTSB ruled the cause of the deadly airplane crash was pilot error.