MARTINSBURG, W. Va. - The pilot of a post-World War II plane that crashed during an air show in West Virginia was a decorated Air Force pilot and instructor, a successful businessman and a passionate pilot who stressed safety first and foremost, friends and family said Sunday.
Federal aviation officials investigating the crash that killed John "Jack" Mangan of Concord, North Carolina, said they expect to have a preliminary finding within days into the cause of the crash Saturday during a show by the T-28 Warbird Aerobatic Formation Demonstration Team.
Mangan, 54, was killed when his T-28 crashed and burst into flames before hundreds of stunned spectators at the Martinsburg air show. He had flown with the demonstration team for five years.
A National Transportation Safety Board investigator was on the scene Sunday and was expected to conduct a briefing later in the day. The investigator did not immediately return messages left by The Associated Press.
A preliminary accident report was expected within three to five working days, said Jim Peters, a spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration. The FAA was assisting the NTSB by checking Mangan's pilot records, medical certification and any documents related to the T-28.
The Journal of Martinsburg reported the aircraft lost control during a six-plane stunt formation and then crashed on a runway near hangers at the airfield. No one on the ground was injured when the aircraft wobbled and crashed, authorities said. Many in the crowd embraced each other and wept after seeing the aircraft appear to disintegrate in a fireball.
Sean Mangan, 27, said his father instructed him to fly and he always stressed attention to detail, preparation and safety.
"He was the best pilot I know," Sean Mangan said of his father. "Flying was his passion. He was a great pilot and a wonderful parent and husband."
Mangan, a retired Air Force officer who graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy, left a wife, Kathy, and two other children. He was the president of RMG, a Kingsport, Tennessee, company with a chain of more than 80 fast-food restaurants in five states.
"Jack was a beloved leader in our company, and his untimely passing is a blow to us all," RMG said in a statement on its website.
As an Air Force fighter pilot, Mangan flew F-4s and F-15s and was an instructor and mission commander in the U.S. during Operation Desert Storm, said Rick Rountree, a spokesman for RMG. He received three meritorious service medals and was fighter pilot of the year in 1984, he said.
The North American T-28 Trojan that he flew in the air show was a basic trainer that was used by the U.S Navy, including for carrier operations, according to The Boeing Co.'s website. Its first flight was in 1949 and it was designed to transition pilots to jet aircraft.
"This was his hobby, to fly these T-28s," Rountree said. "He loved doing it, and he actually flew a lot in his job."
Mangan and RMG also supported The Patriot Foundation, created to provide support to the families of soldiers in the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg.
Mangan's death came a day after an air race crash in Reno, Nevada, that killed nine, and the team performing in the skies over Martinsburg was mindful of that tragedy before they performed.
"Our hearts are hurting for all those involved in Reno, but now is the time for us to focus on our job," the team said in a posting on their Facebook page before the West Virginia crash. "We are professionals and we take safety very seriously. Thunder over the Blue Ridge will go on today entertaining thousands of spectators SAFELY."
The acrobatic team performs in air shows across the U.S. such as the Thunder Over the Blue Ridge show organized over the weekend at an airport near Martinsburg, according to Gen. James Hoyer, West Virginia Air National Guard adjutant. The show is put on by the Air National Guard.
The rest of the air show, including Sunday's planned performances, were canceled.