That one time I witnessed a fatal air show crash…

I’ve lived a pretty sheltered life. I grew up in a quiet, somewhat isolated part of the county, with low crime and friendly neighbors. Nothing big usually happens there. And likewise, despite the professional and travel experiences I’ve been privileged to have, I’ve stayed out of the way of major events. They say we remember bad/intense experiences better than most because the adrenaline burns them into our memory. 28 years later, I can still remember this very vividly.

Flash back to May 25th, 1986. Every year, the local airport, Berlin Municipal Airport (KBML) had an airshow. The runway way long enough that they could host some fairly large and interesting planes, military and private.

That year, one of the performers was the Flying Farmer – Bob Weymouth of Dresden, ME (pictured above). Typical stunt pilot in an older model fixed wing, single prop plane. In this case it was a 1946 Piper J3C-65, doing the typical dips, climbs, rolls and other common maneuvers. Weymouth was apparently a very experienced pilot with decades of stunt shows in this plane on his resume.

During the performance, I walked with my grandfather over to an area closer to the mid point of the runway. The plane shot up, cut power, rotated to point down, and began a steep dive, from which he was expected to recover, as part of the routine. Well, he didn’t. He went straight into the pavement.

There we stood about 150 yards from the wreckage. Grandfather said, “Well, that’s not good,” as the emergency crews rushed towards the smoldering heap of metal. He turned me around and gently nudged me in the opposite direction, back towards the main buildings.

Weymouth was transferred to the local hospital, but succumbed to his injuries. (Link to news clip)

I don’t recall if the airshow continued that day. I do remember that if that wasn’t the last year of the airshow, it was one of the last years. A memorial stone, commemorating the life of the pilot, still stands at the airport, near the windsock closest to the road, last I knew.

NTSB Report:

NTSB Identification: NYC86FNC03.
The docket is stored on NTSB microfiche number 33654.
Accident occurred Sunday, May 25, 1986 in MILAN, NH
Aircraft: PIPER J-3, registration: N6498H
Injuries: 1 Fatal.
NTSB investigators either traveled in support of this investigation or conducted a significant amount of investigative work without any travel, and used data obtained from various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.
THE PILOT WAS FLYING A ‘DRUNKEN FARMER’ ROUTINE AT A AIRSHOW. HE WAS OBSERVED IN THE AIR TO BEGIN A DESCENT FROM WHICH HE DID NOT RECOVER. THE PILOT WAS FATALLY INJURED IN THE CRASH AND THE AIRCRAFT DESTROYED. NO MECHANICAL OR PHYSICAL REASON FOR THE CRASH WAS DETERMINED.

The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident to be:

REASON FOR OCCURRENCE UNDETERMINED

2 thoughts on “That one time I witnessed a fatal air show crash…”

  1. Aaron, here is another strange connection in the greater Maurais family. We live in Woolwi h, just a mile south of Dresden, Maine. This is a moving story. Which grandfather were you with? Was it my favorite uncle Pet?

  2. I watched a video at the FAA a long time ago. The FAA office in Portland was called a GADO back then (now a FSDO). It appeared that as he was pulling out of a dive, he caught his left wingtip and he was thrown out of the aircraft as it crumpled. He was quite old and survivability looked unlikely.

    In around 1972 I was privileged to get a ride with him out of Merrymeeting Airport. A student of mine, Don Caron, arranged a quick flight of about 20 minutes in which he did a three turn spin from 1000′, a roll and a dead stick landing. He impressed me during the climb out by keeping his head on a swivel looking for traffic and his constant attention to what was going on around him.

    There was a story the Fed related to me about a performance he did at an airshow in LEW in the early seventies before all the higher terrain around the main runway was removed. This FED (Jim Shepherd, a maintenance inspector) and a flight FED were watching Weymouth do his routine from a rise on the south east side of the main runway when he pulled up into a loop while he was in the normal position, seated facing forward. The airplane came out of the loop with him facing backwards and continued into another loop. At the completion of the second loop, he was outside on the strut. Sometime later, it was decided that Bob would no longer be allowed to do this again.

    I always thought that Bob Weymouth was a consummate pilot. Safety and skill with his clipped wing cub were always his thing.

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