Local

As this year's air show nears, residents, officials recall fatal 2007 Blue Angles crash

In this photo from the report produced by the government, emergency responders place tarps over the home of Margaret Tiedemann's Pine Grove Home and look for debris from the April 21, 2007 Beaufort Air Show plane crash.
In this photo from the report produced by the government, emergency responders place tarps over the home of Margaret Tiedemann's Pine Grove Home and look for debris from the April 21, 2007 Beaufort Air Show plane crash.

A day after pieces of a downed fighter jet punctured the walls and roof of her Pine Grove Road home, Margaret Tiedemann approached a senior Navy official to make her intentions known.

"I walked right up to him and told him that I wasn't interested in sticking it to the government," she said. "I just wanted enough money to fix my house."

Tiedemann was one of 22 property owners who filed claims with the Navyafter an April 21, 2007, crash that killed Blue Angels pilot Lt. Cmdr. Kevin Davis as he performed in the Beaufort Air Show.

In addition to killing Davis, the crash injured eight people on the ground and damaged dozens of homes near the intersection of Shanklin and Pine Grove roads.

The Blue Angels, formally called the Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron,return to Beaufort next week for the 2009 Air Show.

Jennifer Zeldis, spokeswoman for the Office of the Judge Advocate General of the Navy, said the Navy received 22 claims totaling $1.8 million in losses. Of those,20 claims have been settled for more than $442,000, she said. Residents have received one lump sum payment for their personal or property damage, according to Zeldis. The two outstanding claims likely will make up the difference between the amounts requested and paid out, she said.

According to a 700-page report on the crash released in January 2008, claims ranged from thousands of dollars in property damage, to those who said they were injured running from falling debris, to a man who said he lost his bifocals searching for Davis' body.

The Navy did not deny any of the claims filed, Zeldis said, and the claimants generally receive the amount requested.

Tiedemann said she received her claim settlement "six months to the day of the crash" and used the money to put a new roof, new siding and new windows on the double-wide mobile home that she's lived in for more than 30 years.

STILL WAITING

Not everyone has been compensated by the Navy for their losses, though.

Beaufort County inspectors declared George and Shirley Smith's Pine Grove Road home uninhabitable after the jet's landing gear crashed through their roof and other debris left a large gash across the front of their home.

"The Navy hasn't done anything for us yet," George Smith said in a brief interview Wednesday. "I'm not even sure the Navy knows that we can't live in that house."

Attempts to reach the Smiths -- who declined to discuss the size of their claim -- for follow-up interviews were unsuccessful.

Zeldis said the JAG couldn't comment on individual claims but added the Navy remains committed "to ensuring these residents are compensated in a fair and timely manner."

The time it takes for a settlement to be paid varies, Zeldis said.

"Once all of the information necessary to adjudicate a claim was received from the claimant, it was expeditiously processed," she said. "The length of time to adjudicate varied based upon when the necessary information was received. Some residents had difficulty obtaining property damage estimates, which were required to complete their claim and must be completed by a licensed contractor."

Burton Fire Chief Henry Rountree said damage to homes and vehicles in the Burton neighborhood about three miles west of Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort was extensive.

"There were broken windows, holes in people's roofs, holes in the sides of homes," he said. "I could see a hole in the side of the double-wide home nearest the crash site where a large piece of the aircraft went into the side of the home and nearly hit the occupant who was inside at the time."

Rountree's department would later receive a commendation from the state for their actions in the week following the crash, actions that included putting tarps over holes in residents' homes caused by falling debris and combing a nearby pond for parts of Davis' Hornet, including the jet's flight data recorder.

THE BLUES RETURN

As news of the Blues Angels' return to Beaufort spread, Tiedemann said she couldn't help but reflect on what happened the last time the squadron was in town.

She had just gone inside after watching the Blues Angels' performance from her front steps when she heard a noise she'd never heard before.

"I had just sat down in my recliner, and maybe two minutes later, I heard this really loud noise," she said. "We live so close to (the air station) so you hear jets all the time, but it was nothing like this. Next thing I know, all of this stuff is hitting the top of my house. Pieces of the jet were everywhere. It knocked the chimney clean off the top of my house."

Navy investigators concluded that Davis, the pilot, became disoriented during a sharp turn that created gravitational forces almost seven times greater than normal.

In the performance's last maneuver, Davis was trailing the other pilots and accelerated to more than 425 mph. The sudden force caused him to lose awareness of his speed and altitude, investigators said.

Davis' F-18 Hornet clipped several trees and broke into pieces that were strewn across backyards near the intersection of Shanklin and Pine Grove roads.

Investigators say Davis never lost consciousness and likely steered the jet in its final moments to avoid hitting homes.

Davis, a 32-year-old native of Pittsfield, Mass., joined the Blue Angels in 2005 as a narrator and began flying with the team in 2006, according to the Navy.

Tiedemann said many of her neighbors have returned to their homes, and are a little nervous about next weekend's air show.

"I was a nervous wreck when I first heard they were coming back," she said. "I know that there is about a one in 10 million chance of this ever happening again, so I know we'll be fine. I just hate that that pilot died."

Capt. Tyson Dunkelberger, spokesman for the Blue Angels, said the squadron received an outpouring of support from Beaufort-area residents and look forward to returning.

"We want to thank everyone in Beaufort for their support and their condolences," Dunkelberger said. "It's great to be coming back to Beaufort, and we're glad that the air station is willing to have us back."

  Comments