Long Island, New York
On June 23, 1997, Two planes racing in an airshow over an eastern Long Island airport yesterday collided in midair killing one pilot, whose craft crashed and burst into flames in front of 15,000 spectators. Dick Goodlett, 51, of Louisville, Ky., suffered burns over 90% of his body and died just hours after being pulled from his homemade single-engine plane at Francis Gabreski Airport in Westhampton Beach. Moments later, Chris Kalishek, 38, of Madison, Wis., crash-landed as thunderstorms rolled in. He was in critical condition at University Hospital, Stony Brook, with extensive trauma. The 15,000 spectators at the Wings Over Long Island show became hushed as the planes hit one one another, then screamed wildly as Goodlett's smashed into the ground, sending a massive fireball 25 feet into the afternoon sky. "Oh, my God! Oh, my God!" yelled Maj. James Finkle, a public affairs officer at the airport, which houses the 106th Air National Guard. "I saw fire and smoke," said spectator April Fasano, 25. Goodlett's "plane just spun down before everyone's eyes. We just couldn't believe this was happening." As ambulances, cops and fire trucks sped toward the runway, officials ushered out the crowd, which had witnessed the 3:45 p.m. crash from about 500 feet away. No spectators were hurt, but officials were taking no chances. "That's all. Shut it down, it's over," Paul Haynes, a fire safety official shouted at stunned race organizers. "Make an announcement!" The collision's cause was not immediately clear, though officials said the planes may have had clipped wings. Although pre-storm winds had been whipping, state police Capt. Walter Heesch said there was no indication that weather played a role. It was a tragic end to the first airshow at the airport in 20 years. Airport manager Joe LaTrent said the previous spectacle, in 1977, ended with the death of a stunt pilot. The planes involved in yesterday's crash were among four that had raced around a 21/2-mile oval at up to 170 mph, 50 to 150 feet off the ground a type of racing known as Formula V. The race had just ended, and the planes were taking one last lap around the course, which was set off by a series of pylons placed along runways 6 and 24. Goodlett's blue plane and Kalishek's yellow one hit one another as the aircraft were climbing to 300 feet. Race's announcer James Vliet, vice president of the Formula V Air Racing Association, said the planes were competing for a $2,000 prize, which was won by a pilot not involved in the collision. He said Goodlett, a married father, and Kalishek were both licensed commercial pilots, with more than 500 hours each of training. It was just the second such race for Kalishek and the fifth for Goodlett, a flight instructor. Both were piloting 500-pound, 65-horsepower homemade planes with 18-foot wingspans. The crash put a fiery end to the two-day airshow, sponsored by local Rotary clubs.