Tribute To Fallen Blue Angel

A Navy Blue Angel jet crashed during an air show Saturday, plunging into a neighborhood of small homes and trailers and killing the pilot.

Late Sunday the pilot was identified as Lt. Cmdr. Kevin Davis. A Navy statement said the pilot had been on the team for two years, and it was his first as a demonstration pilot.

In a somber salute, a team of six jets flew in traditional "Missing Man" formation at the start of the air show Sunday, reports CBS News correspondent Joie Chen. Then one jet peeled off to honor the FA 18 Hornet and its pilot, lost when the jet plummeted into a neighborhood near the air base.

Witnesses said the planes were flying in formation during the show at the Marine Corps Air Station at about 4 p.m. and one dropped below the trees and crashed, sending up clouds of smoke.

Buzz Henry, who was in the front yard raking when the jets passed overhead, told CBS News he saw one of the planes burst into flames while still in the sky, spitting a strip of fire across the sky as it headed down into the trees. Henry says he found the pilot's body. He added that the parachute had not been released and that it appeared that the pilot did not attempt to eject himself from the plane.

Raymond Voegeli, a plumber, was backing out of a driveway when the plane ripped through a grove of pine trees, dousing his truck in flames and debris. He said wreckage hit "plenty of houses and mobile homes."

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

Witnesses said metal and plastic wreckage — some of it on fire — hit homes in the neighborhood, located about 35 miles northwest of Hilton Head Island. William Winn, the county emergency management director, said several homes were damaged. Eight people on the ground were injured.

During their shows, the Blue Angels come within inches of each other, and yesterday, the accident happened as the team was doing a maneuver in which all six jets come together in a triangle formation, adds Chen.

The crash took place in the final minutes of the air show, said Lt. Cmdr. Anthony Walley, a Blue Angel pilot.

"Our squadron and the entire U.S. Navy are grieving the loss of a great American, a great Naval officer and a great friend," Walley said.

Kasper said all possible causes of the crash are under investigation, and it could take at least three weeks for an official cause to be released.

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.

In the last 20 years more than 150 spectators have been killed in Airshow crashes involving military demonstration teams, reports CBS News' Russ Mitchell.

The deadliest was in the Ukraine, when a Russian fighter jet crashed into crowd, killing 84. In 1988 a mid-air collision of Italy's Air Force team killed 72 people at a U.S. base in Germany.

But over the last 50 years no spectators have been killed at air shows here in the United States, adds Mitchell.

The Blue Angels fly F/A-18 Hornets at high speeds in close formations, and their pilots are considered the Navy's elite. They don't wear the traditional G-suits that most jet pilots use to avoid blacking out during maneuvers. The suits inflate around the lower body to keep blood in the brain, but which could cause a pilot to bump the control stick — a potentially deadly move when flying inches from other planes.

Instead, Blue Angels manage G-forces by tensing their abdominal muscles.

The last Blue Angel crash that killed a pilot took place in 1999, when a pilot and crewmate were killed while practicing for air shows with the five other Blue Angels jets at a base in Georgia.

Saturday's show was at the beginning of the team's flight season, and more than 100,000 people were expected to attend. The elite team, which is based at Pensacola Naval Air Station, recently celebrated its 60th anniversary.

The 2007 team has a new flight leader and two new pilots; Blue Angel pilots traditionally serve two-year rotations.

Kasper said the team would return to Florida on Sunday afternoon. "We will regroup," he said.