KANSAS CITY, Mo. —The pilot of the biplane that crashed into the runway at Wheeler Downtown Airport before a stunned air show crowd Saturday described himself as obsessed with flying.
Bryan Jensen grew up on a farm in Iowa, took his first flying lesson when he was 13, soloed on his 16th birthday and as an adult flew jumbo jets for Delta Airlines, according to a website promoting his passion for aerobatic flying. He had been a stunt pilot for the past 15 years, when not in the captain's seat of a 747.
Now it's up to crash investigators to determine what led to the accident that killed a pilot with about 23,000 hours of flight time.
The accident occurred around 1:45 p.m. in front of a few thousand spectators on the first day of the Kansas City Aviation Expo Air Show.
Witnesses said that the custom-built, red biplane was performing aerobatic maneuvers, and did a downward spiral but failed to pull up.
The plane crashed nose-first into the pavement and burst into flames, according to witnesses. The crowd went silent, emergency crews headed for the wreckage, and the show immediately was closed.
Many attendees waited to climb aboard buses, but a hundred or more trudged toward downtown across the Broadway Bridge, which was closed to regular traffic.
Caine and Jason Cook of Blue Springs were among those walking. Caine Cook said the plane's descent looked as though it were scripted.
"It was looking cool at first, like he knew what he was doing," Jason Cook said.
But seconds before impact, it dawned on the Cooks that the pilot wasn't going to make it.
A show volunteer who had seen the show rehearsal Friday said he marveled at how Jensen and other pilots would fly so close to the ground before pulling up.
The Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the accident.
Jensen's hometown and age were not available.
Show director Ed Noyallis read a brief statement in a hangar after the crash.
"Our hearts go out to Bryan's family and loved ones," he said, adding that aerobatic flying can be very dangerous, although the public was never in danger.
Air show officials said they spoke with other pilots after the crash and all agreed the show would continue today.