MARINE CORPS AIR STATION BEAUFORT, S.C. -- In the final moments of the last performance during day one of the 2007 MCAS Beaufort Air Show, tragedy struck when the Blue Angel # 6 jet from the Navy’s Flight Demonstration Squadron crashed.
The pilot, who did not survive, was Lt. Cmdr. Kevin J. Davis, a second year member of the team.
At approximately 4 p.m. Saturday, Davis was joining the Delta formation for the final maneuver of the aerial demonstration when the mishap occurred. The other five Blue Angel jets were not involved in the incident and landed safely moments later.
Davis served as the opposing solo pilot for the F/A-18 Hornet squadron. This was his first year as a demonstration pilot and for his parents, who were in the crowd watching their son, it was their first Air Show.
“Our squadron and the entire U.S. Navy are grieving in the loss of a great American, a great Naval Officer and most of all, a great friend,” said Lt. Cmdr. Anthony Walley, the right wing pilot for Blue Angel # 2.
The crash occurred approximately three miles outside of the Air Station and was quickly responded to by both civilian and military emergency services.
"We established an incident command team responsible for coordinating all activities and responsible for both cleanup and debris," said William Winn, the Beaufort County Emergency Management director.
"From my vantage point, the response was phenomenal," said Col. Robert Lanham, the Air Station's commanding officer. "All of the coordination exercises that we do with the Beaufort County first responders paid off, because the coordination with them at the accident scene was superb. Emergency responders were where they needed to be immediately and began to work to contain the situation and handle the emergency. I was very proud of everyone."
A special tribute was made to honor Davis Saturday night by personnel at the crash site.
"As a tribute, (Saturday evening), the emergency services removed the American flag from the Burton Fire Department and placed it over the stretcher carrying the pilot from the scene," Winn said. "Full honors were rendered at that time by emergency services personnel and by military authorities."
The decision was made to continue with the second day of Air Show performances, and the day began with a moving opening ceremony paying tribute to Davis by observing a moment of silence, an aerial missing man formation performed by the GEICO Skytypers and the playing of Taps.
"We put a lot of thought into (continuing with the Air Show) for a few reasons," Lanham said. "One is that's what we do and even the Air Show performers wanted to go ahead with it because that's how we've always done business in aviation. As tragic as it is, it's part of our business. We accept those risks and we have to go on with the mission. And going on with the Air Show is symbolic of how we handle the dangerous aspects of our mission. The other aspect is the solid support we got from the community to go along with it. At the opening ceremony we had Mayor (Bill) Rauch, County Council Chair Weston Newton and Vice-Chair Skeet Von Harten. There was a lot of solidarity between the military and the civilian community to go ahead with it."
In the wake of Saturday’s tragic event, many critics have begun voicing their opinions, saying that Air Shows are dangerous and perhaps shouldn't be flown over cities.
"It's not Air Shows that are dangerous, it's flying," Lanham said. "The flying business can be dangerous. Air Show's are done for specific reasons - to provide community relations for us, to assist in recruiting, and to demonstrate aviation and air power to a public that largely doesn't know a lot about what we do. So I think it's worth the risk that we take."
“We are entirely committed to safety in our historical organization and in Naval Aviation," Walley said.
While the second day of Air Show events continued, the death of Davis affected the entire county.
"Beaufort County is very saddened by this incident," Winn said. "We're sorry to lose one of our Naval heroes."
"It was a tragedy that the Blue Angel mishap occurred,” Lanham said. “I think other than that it was a flawless effort on both days. The whole Marine Corps and Navy community at MCAS Beaufort turned out a great show. I received feedback from the performers that it was one of the better-organized shows that they attended and everybody I talked to was having a really, really good time. And even when we were challenged by tragedy, Team Beaufort responded very well. I was very proud of the effort and it doesn't diminish the level of teamwork and professionalism that the sailors and Marines demonstrated here."
The family has asked that any donations be made to the Make-A-Wish Foundation in Lt. Cmdr. Kevin J. Davis’ name. The cause of the accident is currently under investigation.