1 dead after Blue Angels jet crashes during air show - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

1 dead after Blue Angels jet crashes during air show

Posted: Updated:

BEAUFORT, S.C. - A Navy F-18 Blue Angel plane crashed during an air show Saturday, plunging into a small neighborhood of homes and trailers and killing the pilot.

Witnesses said the planes were flying in formation during the show at the Marine Corps Air Station and one dropped below the trees and apparently crashed, sending up clouds of smoke.

Raymond Voegeli, a plumber, was backing out of a driveway when the plane ripped through a grove of nearby pine trees, dousing his truck in flames and debris.

"It was just a big fireball coming at me," said Voegeli, 37. "It was just taking pine trees and just clipping them."

He said wreckage hit "plenty of houses and mobile homes." Other witnesses said metal and plastic, some of it on fire, peppered the neighborhood and that one mobile home was destroyed. The witnesses were unsure whether that home was occupied.

John Sauls, who lives near the crash site, said the planes were banking back and forth before one disappeared, and a plume of smoke shot up.

"It's one of those surreal moments when you go, 'No, I didn't just see what I saw,' " Sauls said.

"They were doing maneuvers and generally when the planes loop around they cross the runway and then turn around and basically when they turned around we saw a cloud of black smoke," said Brett Hindshaw, a South African who was visiting Beaufort for the air show.

"We started counting and we saw five aircraft. Four of them landed but the lead pilot circled over the accident sight and then one or two military helicopters took off and went in that direction," he told Reuters by telephone.

"Then all the ambulances and military fire trucks stationed along the runway took off."

A horrific scene
County Coroner Curt Copeland said the pilot was killed, but the identify was not immediately available. Copeland said there was a lot of debris at the crash site and described the scene as horrific.

At the Blue Angels command headquarters at Pensacola Naval Air Station the petty officer on duty said he "had no comment at this time." Phones rang unanswered at the Marine base.

More than 100,000 were expected to attend the air show and the Blue Angels were the main attraction. The elite aerial-demonstration team, which is based at Pensacola, recently celebrated its 60th anniversary.

Beaufort is about 35 miles northwest of Hilton Head Island.

Several witnesses said the debris destroyed a mobile home. It was not clear whether it was occupied.

(Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.)