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The Day the Dayton Air Show Changed Forever
By Peter Wine

On Saturday, July 28, 2007, pilot Jim LeRoy crashed while performing at the Vectren Dayton Air Show. 

"I couldn't believe it had happened."

Those are the words of MediaMoments.com photographer Peter Wine when talking about the crash of veteran pilot Jim LeRoy at the Vectren Dayton Air Show Saturday afternoon.

He is a freelance photographer who frequently works on assignment for the Dayton Daily News, but was at the show that day on his own, gathering photos to supply future requests from publishers, and for publication on his web site.

Here is his account of what happened.

Everything changed around 2:30 p.m. as Jim LeRoy's Bulldog failed to finish a maneuver during his second performance of the day.


I was in the 'media center' at the show, and because I was not on assignment, I was not on the 'front lines' which meant there were other photographers at the fence that separated us from the flight line. Though no more than three feet high, in the moments following the crash it felt at times as if it were ten or twenty feet high. 

I fought emotions for several moments about whether to try and cross the fence. There were several people on the other side of the fence, so I went to the place where the carts come and go. 

They had closed the gap in the fence and wouldn't let me get out onto the grass where I would have a clearer view of the crash site, so I went back to the closest point in the media area and continued to shoot until we were ordered to leave and go to the Expo Center at the airport.

There was no reason given, but speculation was heard that we would be meeting with the NTSB or airport officials to discover what we knew about the crash. I began to fear they would try to confiscate my digital film, and thought about my various options.

On the one hand, I would certainly like to aid the effort to find out what happened, but on the other I didn't want to lose control of whatever might be of value to the Dayton Daily News.

It turned out to be simply a press conference, and we waited around 90 minutes for it to start. The NTSB never did show up.

Because of the location of the 'media center,' which is really just an area with a tent at the far end of the flight line, I was pretty far away from the crash scene. Without really high-powered lenses, I could only see so much detail with the camera to my eye, and in the view screen moments later. 

Also, because the area next to the 'media center' had tables with umbrellas close to the fence, it was difficult for anyone not next to the fence to see down the flight line at all. Even those at the corner had a limited view, as the fence appeared to go away from the flight line, putting all those umbrellas in our view, and not much else.

From the 'media center' we could barely see 'show center,' a spot near the announcer, and the words, "and now, from the left..." became something to dread as that meant that we would be unable to see the aircraft until after they came out from behind the umbrellas.  

In fact, the only time I saw announcer Rob Reider was Sunday morning, as he stopped by the 'media center' looking for someone.  I remember Rob from the 50/50 club, where he appeared with host Bob Braun.  I don't know if he was on the show when Ruth Lyons was doing the show or not.  (That was a long time ago.)  He did a good job in a really tough situation, advising people to stay calm, and to have children look away from the flight line.

I was watching and taking pictures as LeRoy performed, though it was hard to see at times because of the smoke near the ground put out by their planes.  

So when LeRoy went into what turned out to be his last dive I was taking pictures, but when he got close to the ground, the umbrellas and people began to block my view and he appeared to go into the smoke at the bottom of an arc.  And I was thinking (or hoping) that he was skimming along the ground and would soon come up above the umbrellas.

But he never came up out of the crowd, and I knew that something was wrong, even though I was sure that I hadn't gotten it recorded in the camera. That's when I had that awful, sinking feeling. Jim LeRoy had not pulled out of the dive completely, he had crashed.

It was the moment that everyone who attends any air show in the world does not want to witness. I've been to the Dayton Air Show often over the years, both as a spectator and as part of the media. 

In the years that I have been covering the show as a photographer I always hope to get publishable pictures, but I've always said that I hope to get the best shot of the planes performing, and never want to see a crash, regardless of how good the picture might be.  I don't know of any photographer who hopes to see a crash, the way that some (appear) to go to hockey games to watch the fights during the game.

However, the reality is that what happens at an air show crash needs to be documented. In order for others to understand what occurred, whether they were at the show or not, people will want to see what happened. Some for morbid enjoyment I suppose, but I suspect there are people that have a hard time believing they saw what they saw and need to be sure that someone else saw it, too.

And then there is the investigation into the crash. What a tough job that must be. Knowing that the pilot died following the crash, they have to go through what's left of the plane to find clues that might help another pilot avoid a similar fate. 

During the press conference following the crash, Capt Elizabeth Kreft, the Air Force Thunderbird Public Affairs Officer announced they wouldn't fly on Sunday. "We're a family in this air show community, and we know almost everyone that performs at every air show."

Today that family is grieving. 

Contact the writer: info@MediaMoments.com.

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