STEVENS POINT – A pilot died Sunday when his plane spiraled to the ground and crashed during the Stevens Point Air Show, police said.
Stevens Point Police Sgt. Tony Babl said the 47-year-old Wisconsin man was pronounced dead at the scene after his plane crashed shortly before 12:30 p.m. during an aerobatic performance.
Police said they are withholding the name of the pilot until family members can be notified. The pilot had been flying a 1993 YAK-55M Russian-made aerobatics plane. Officials said they don’t yet know what caused the crash.
The crash happened near the Green Circle Trail in a wooded area about 1,000 feet east of the runway at the Stevens Point Municipal Airport, Babl said, confirming what witnesses on the scene said. That section of the trail is now closed, Babl said.
Airport officials shut down the airshow immediately after the crash. Numerous emergency vehicles — including those from the Stevens Point and Stockton fire departments, the Stevens Point Police Department and the Portage County Sheriff’s Office — traveled to and from the scene of the crash, which occurred at the far end of the airfield, opposite from the terminal.
Witnesses to the crash said the plane had spiraled toward the ground, looped up, then crashed into the trees next to the airport’s airfield.
“I couldn’t believe what I saw,” said Melvin Burskey, 72, of Neenah, who was attending the event. “There was a puff of smoke, then it went down.”
Chris Walker, 53, of Stevens Point was taking video of the airshow right before the crash. Walker said the plane would dip below the tree line as it performed stunts and it wasn’t immediately apparent that something was wrong until it didn’t re-emerge from the treeline and emergency vehicles rushed onto the airfield.
“I was in shock,” Walker said.
Airshow crews were called into a room inside the airport after the crash, and later began taking down signs for the event after coming out of the airport, closing the airshow for the day. Some of the events scheduled for Sunday’s airshow included aerobatic performances and city tours in helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft.
Babl said police officers are guarding the scene until investigators from the Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board arrive.
B.C. Kowalski can be reached at 715-345-2251. Find him on Twitter as @BCreporter.
Help the investigation
Investigators are looking for footage from the crash to assist with the investigation. If you have footage and would like to help, please contact Sgt. Tony Babl at the Stevens Point Police Department either by calling 715-346-1515 or sending him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.