The pilot of a civilian World War II stunt plane died Friday after the plane crashed while practicing just hours before an air show, officials said.
Jan Wildbergh, the flight leader with the Skytypers Air Show Team, died following the crash at the Oceana Naval Air Station, team sponsor GEICO Insurance said in a statement.
Larry Arken, deputy squadron commander of the six-man team, said earlier that the pilots had just finished rehearsing their routine at the Virginia Beach base and were coming in for a landing when the No. 6 plane, the last in the formation, crashed.
Arken was flying first, so he did not see the plane go down. But he said he heard from witnesses that the plane flew into the ground while still under its own power, he told The Associated Press from Oceana when reached on his cellphone.
Wildbergh trained with the Dutch Air Force, for which he flew first-generation jet fighters during the Cold War, the GEICO statement said. He moved to the U.S. to pilot private aircraft, ran a flight school and joined Skytypers in 1986.
The crash was being investigated, base spokesman Troy Snead said. The base was not open to the public when the plane crashed about noon, but some invited guests were watching the practice, Snead said.
The plane had no ejection system, and the pilot was flying too low to use his parachute, team spokesman Ralph Roberts told WAVY-TV in Portsmouth.
"He probably tried to continue to make the maneuver and save the plane, possibly by doing a belly flop," Roberts said.
The annual three-day air show, sponsored by the Navy, is still scheduled to be held over the weekend.
Jan Wildbergh came to the GEICO Skytypers all the way from the Netherlands but was born in the Sumatra island of Indonesia. Jan had a storied military career as a pilot that began at age 18 when he enlisted in the Dutch Air Force, soloing his first jet during pilot training in the U.S under the MDAP program.
He received his wings in 1954 where he flew in the Dutch Air Force operational squadron 314. In 1959 he demobilized and left for the U.S. as an immigrant finding pilot work as ground personnel for a major international carrier (BA) and eventually a flight instructor, chief pilot and FAA pilot examiner.
Officially retired, Jan resided in Freeport, New York and enjoyed scuba diving, boating, and flying with the GEICO Skytypers.