BLACKSHEAR — A practice flight for an upcoming air show ended in tragedy Friday when two planes collided in mid-air causing the death of a skilled pilot, according to Pierce County Sheriff Ramsey Bennett.
John Warren Ford, 65, of Crescent City, Fla., died in the crash, said Bennett.
The planes took off from at the Waycross-Ware County Airport where many Red Star pilots were spending the weekend polishing up aerobatic manuevers for an air show in north Florida.
The second plane made it back to the airport safely.
Ford’s craft, a single engine propeller-driven plane, went down into a wooded area near Jacobs Road just minutes after 3 p.m. Friday, Bennett said.
Bennett said Deputy Steven Wright was the first to respond to the crash site, which was near a logging site.
“At the intersection of Ware Street and Jacobs Road, Deputy Wright spoke with a witness who told him about the plane crash and pointed to where he thought it went down,” said Bennett.
Wright reported that when he arrived, he saw the plane and it was on fire. He said he saw a helmet just outside of the plane which led him to believe the pilot may have been able to escape, Bennett said. But as Wright used a fire extinguisher on the fire, he saw that the pilot was still inside the plane, Bennett said.
“It was apparent that the pilot was dead,” Bennett quoted from Wright’s written report. The sheriff said the body was sent to the state crime lab in Savannah for an autopsy.
Bennett said that after a short period, Blackshear Fire Department and Pierce County Fire Department personnel arrived and finished putting out the fire. After it had been controlled, Bennett said Wright advised everyone to leave the scene and taped off the crash site, then set up a perimeter.
“We were able to determine that it was a plane from the air show in Waycross and the FAA and NTSB came and we assisted them,” said Bennett. “They dismantled the plane and took it with them to Griffin, Ga. to complete their investigation.
The plane was a part of the Red Star Fly-in that takes place once a year (for the past 20 or so years) at the Ware County Airport. About 40 planes take part in the formations during the day Friday through Sunday on the designated weekend in October. It is in advance of a large air show held in Florida.
Ware County Fire Department Capt. Joe McPhaul said it appeared that the planes were taking part in some practice formations when they collided.
McPhaul said a Ware Fire crew was dispatched to the airport to make sure the pilot of the other plane landed safely following the collision.