The pilot of a 1950s-era plane that crashed during an airshow was climbing and amid an acrobatic roll when the aircraft suddenly began its deadly descent, the National Transportation Safety Board said Sunday.
There were no signs of trouble in the moments before pilot John "Jack" Mangan of Concord, N.C., plunged to his death Saturday, a spokesman for the NTSB said.
"There's no indication from the other pilots there was a problem with the aircraft," said Peter Knudson, who summarized the initial findings of Tim Monville, an air safety investigator who arrived on the scene on Sunday.
Mangan's death came a day after an air race crash in Reno, Nev., killed nine people, including the pilot of a vintage World War II P-51 Mustang fighter plane.
Mangan, a decorated retired Air Force pilot, was performing with the T-28 Warbird Aerobatic Formation Demonstration Team when he and another pilot began a maneuver in which both planes fly directly at each other at 300 feet above ground, ascend and then roll their aircraft, Knudson said.
Mangan began his climb at approximately 275 mph but did not complete his roll.
Knudson said the investigation was challenging because of the damage to aircraft from the fiery crash. A preliminary report is expected with 10 days, he said.
Friends and family described Mangan, 54, as successful businessman and a passionate pilot who stressed safety.
Nine minutes into a 15-minute routine, Mangan's T-28 crashed and burst into flames before hundreds of stunned spectators. He had flown with the demonstration team for five years.
The Federal Aviation Administration was assisting the NTSB by checking Mangan's pilot records, medical certification and any documents related to the T-28, spokesman Jim Peters said.
The Journal of Martinsburg (http://bit.ly/nJ268P) reported the aircraft crashed on a runway near hangers at the airfield. None of the spectators was injured when the aircraft crashed, authorities said. Many in the crowd embraced each other and wept after the crash.
The guard unit that sponsored the air show urged spectators to seek support if they were traumatically affected.
"We understand that you are mourning with us," Col. Roger L. Nye, commander of the 167 Airlift Wing, said in a statement. "In this difficult time we all need to take care of each other."
Unit leadership has contacted area schools to ensure that children who witnessed the crash have access to grief counseling when they return to classes Monday.
Mangan, a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy, was married and had two other children. He was the president of RMG, a Kingsport, Tenn., company with a chain of more than 80 fast-food restaurants in Tennessee, West Virginia, Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
"Jack was a beloved leader in our company, and his untimely passing is a blow to us all," RMG said on its website.
Sean Mangan, 27, said his father instructed him to fly and he always stressed attention to detail, preparation and safety.
"He was the best pilot I know," Sean Mangan said. "Flying was his passion. He was a great pilot and a wonderful parent and husband."
As an Air Force fighter pilot, Jack Mangan flew F-4s and F-15s and was an instructor and mission commander in the U.S. during Operation Desert Storm, said Rick Rountree, a spokesman for RMG. He received three meritorious service medals and was fighter pilot of the year in 1984, he said.
The North American T-28 Trojan that he flew in the air show was a basic trainer that was used by the U.S Navy, including for carrier operation, according to The Boeing Co.'s website. Its first flight was in 1949 and it was designed to transition pilots to jet aircraft.
"This was his hobby, to fly these T-28s," Rountree said. "He loved doing it, and he actually flew a lot in his job."
Mangan and RMG also supported The Patriot Foundation, created to provide support to the families of soldiers in the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg.
"He was very positive and upbeat and one of those natural born leaders," Rountree said. "He was clearly the guy who RMG on a day-to-day basis, operationally, and he was an extremely popular leader with his employees."
Mangan's team was mindful of the Reno tragedy before they performed.
"Our hearts are hurting for all those involved in Reno, but now is the time for us to focus on our job," the team said on its Facebook page before the West Virginia crash. "We are professionals and we take safety very seriously. Thunder over the Blue Ridge will go on today entertaining thousands of spectators SAFELY."
The acrobatic team performs in air shows across such as the Thunder Over the Blue Ridge show organized over the weekend at an airport near Martinsburg, according to Gen. James Hoyer, West Virginia Air National Guard adjutant. The show is put on by the Air National Guard.
The rest of the air show, including Sunday's planned performances, were canceled.