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BEAUFORT, S.C. - Raymond Voegeli was backing out of a driveway when a Navy Blue Angel jet suddenly came ripping through a grove of pine trees and crashed, showering his truck in flames and debris.

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The jet went down Saturday during an air show, plunging into a neighborhood of small homes and trailers and killing the pilot. Witnesses said six Blue Angel jets were flying in formation at the Marine Corps Air Station when one crashed, sending up clouds of smoke.

"It was just a big fireball coming at me," said Voegeli, a 37-year-old plumber. "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 suffered injuries that were not life threatening.

The crash took place in the final minutes of the air show, said Lt. Cmdr. Anthony Walley, a Blue Angel pilot. The pilots were doing a maneuver which involved all six planes joining from behind the crowd to form a Delta triangle, said Lt. Cmdr. Garrett D. Kasper, spokesman for the Blue Angels. One plane did not rejoin the formation.

Military officials said the pilot's name would not be released until Sunday afternoon, keeping with a policy of waiting 24 hours after the death. A Navy statement said the pilot had been on the team for two years — and it was his first as a demonstration 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.

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 team, which is based at Pensacola Naval Air Station, recently celebrated its 60th anniversary.

The show was scheduled to continue Sunday, with a tribute to the Blue Angels planned. The team will not perform, military officials said.

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.




GOD BLESS YOU, GENTELMEN AND LADIES
 

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That's crazy... I could have sworn they said who the pilot was on the news just a few minutes ago (on FOX), even right after they said they wouldn't release the name yet. Maybe it was someone else, I don't know.
 

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Sad news. Blue Angel pilots are some of our country's top aviators. They are proven warriors with the skills necessary to fly those demanding routines in front of thousands of people throughout the year. Those who choose to accept these dangers and risks are to be held in the highest regard.

Godspeed, Blue Angel.
 

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It would not surprise me if he sacrificed his life by staying with the plane to ensure it didn't plow into a heavily populated area.
That's the caliber of men they are.
 

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I'm not familiar with that area, but their COULD have been more densely populated areas nearby.
A tragic loss either way.
 

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My brother-in-law lives there and I have watched the air show there in the past, there are some heavily populated areas there, he may have had to try to reach a swamp area. I always wish the Blue Angels the best, I think that they outpreform all other flying teams.
 

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I saw on Fox news this morning a home video that someone took a few seconds before the crash that showed the number 6 aircraft with a flash coming from its engine. It may have been engine failure. These guys will go down with the plane if they realize that lives on the ground are in danger and will try to steer their plane away from homes, etc. He may have made that decision and didn't quite have enough time to completely steer clear of the homes. He was also a former Top Gun instructor.
 

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I was raised in Pensacola and can remember watching them put on shows and practice since I've been alive.
It almost feels like a family member has passed anytime one is lost.
 

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I think the crash before this one was at Moody AFB in Valdosta just shortly after I moved up here. Lost a guy there too.
 

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On Fox news they said the last time the Blue Angels had an accident was at an airshow in 1998. They lost two aircraft and two pilots.
 

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I remember what happened at Ramstein AB in Germany, 1988.

To stay with that plane when he could've just punched out, shows the utmost in bravery in the face of sure death.

My prayers go out to his family, as well as to the Blue Angels as a whole.

Hell of a way to open the season. :cry:
 
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