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Performers honor legacy of those they lost by continuing with air show

A day after losing wing walker Jane Wicker and pilot Charlie Schwenker in a crash, fellow performers said the best way to honor their legacy was to carry on with the Dayton air show on Sunday.

Wicker and Schwenker were killed on Saturday when their plane crashed to the ground in front of a crowd of thousands. News of their deaths quickly spread around the country and the show closed for the remainder of the day shortly after the accident.

It reopened on Sunday, with skydivers, pyrotechnics and daredevil flying by renowned pilots Sean D. Tucker, Mike Goulian, Melissa Pemberton and others.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that they would have wanted it to continue,” said skydiver Dan Paganini, with Team Fastrax out of Middletown.

“Honoring their legacy, the best way to do that is to go out there and keep going,” said Tom Walters, who flew a replica Wright brothers plane on Sunday.

As the Dayton and air show communities mourned, a moment of silence for Wicker and Schwenker was held at the start of the show on Sunday, and the announcer affirmed to the crowd that the pair would have wanted the show to continue.

Throughout the afternoon, the crowd watched pilots racing across the sky in front of them. They did daring tricks: Skip Stewart took his Pitts S-2S Prometheus into a dive to limbo under some ribbons held near the ground. Tucker rolled his aircraft in the sky and dove down to slice through ribbons. Team Fastrax jumped with a 7,500-square-foot American flag, the largest in the world, according to the air show.

The performers said they did what they love in memory of those they lost.

“It’s not about when you have a loss inside of aviation. It’s just about making sure it keeps going and taking it to the youngsters,” said Paganini, who has performed at the Dayton air show for several years.

Randy Kemp, whose restored B-25 “Champaign Gal” was on display during the show, said in the industry “you don’t want things to stop because of something you’ve done, whether you survive it or not.”

Walters said a common thread among the aviation community “is a drive to move on.” His organization, Wright B Flyer Inc., also lost two pilots in an accident in 2011.

“I think the pilots we lost from our organization and the specialists we lost (Saturday) would have wanted the show to go on today, because that is that spirit that keeps discovery alive,” Walters said. “It’s the thing that drove the Wright brothers. They lost people while they were developing the airplane and they had a hard time with that. And yet they pressed on. It’s part of what human spirit.”

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