Doc Baldwin at the start of his act, minutes later his plane had crashed. Photo credits: above, Travis McKenzie, below, Chelle Delaney
TUCUMCARI -- Guy "Doc" Baldwin's aerobatic plane was performing a loop maneuver above the crowd at Tucumcari's annual air show about 1:20 p.m. on Wednesday afternoon.
Moments later, the plane was down and the crowd went silent.
"It took your breath away. Everyone became really silent and stood up," said Stacy Bair of Washington, N.J., who was making her fourth trip to the show at Tucumcari's municipal airport.
Baldwin, 60, of Tulsa, Okla., was killed in the crash. No one else was injured. Officials said it was the first accident in the show's 14 years. The cause of the crash was not immediately known.
Most spectators, shielded by vendor booths and other planes, did not see the crash. But some did.
“There was a cloud of dust when the plane hit — it was a big thing of dust,” said Daniel Morgan of the New Mexico Department of Transportation's aviation division who was at the show to promote flying in New Mexico.
Laro McKenzie of the Tucumcari Rotary Club, which sponsors the event, said the plane appeared to be cartwheeling after it hit the ground, though other eyewitnesses said the plane slid, then began spinning.
The plane crashed about 500 feet from spectators, according to Steve Stephenson, Tucumcari Municipal Airport manager.
The German-built Extra 300L traveled about 500 feet after impact, leaving a lengthy debris trail.
The rest of the air show was canceled.
The National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration will investigate the crash.
NTSB officials are expected to arrive this morning from Denver to begin their investigation, said Tucumcari Police Chief Larry Ham.
Baldwin was a physician and aviation medical examiner, according to the show’s program. He logged more than 4,000 hours in 35 years of flying, the program said. He was making his first appearance at the Tucumcari show.
Immediately after the crash, crew members from other air show acts embraced each other and looked to be holding back tears. State police immediately halted access to the airport road from Interstate 40, and after the crash site was secure, spectators were asked to quietly leave.
Stanley Jennings, who sells plane parts and has logged more than 3,000 hours of flying time, saw the crash and speculated that Baldwin misjudged the wind when he came out of his loop.
"It seemed to me that he tried to correct it. But he went into a high-speed stall and made impact with the ground," Jennings said.
"It was a terrible tragedy," he said, "but it shouldn't deter aviation. When you are a stunt pilot you realize there are situations you can get into."