A deadly air show disaster in Britain is hitting home to people involved with planning air shows in Saskatchewan.
At least 11 people are dead but police now say the death toll could rise to 20 after the 1950’s era jet crashed on a busy highway during the Shoreham Air Show in Sussex, England on Sunday. A pilot has also died in Switzerland when two small planes crashed during an air show the same day.
Brian Swidrovich is the director of the Canada Remembers Our Heroes Air Show in Saskatoon. He joined Mainstreet Monday afternoon to talk about safety in the wake of these crashes.
“As an organizer of a similar event, it’s a tragedy that you certainly never want to experience yourself, and even when it happens elsewhere in the world, it kind of hits home,” Swidrovich commented.
He has been involved with organizing air shows since 1995.
“It’s tough to take, you know the performers want to perform safely, the spectators attend these events and want to do so safely. But when something like this happens off site, it just hits home in a different way.”
He commented that the pilots he deals with are always very professional in their efforts to put on a safe but spectacular show. He says pilots do push themselves to the limit and sometimes it ends in tragedy.
Swidrovich points out that safety regulations in North America require a 7,000 foot by 3,000 foot showbox which is an empty space on the ground meant to protect people watching air shows. He is not familiar with the safety regulations in Europe or Britain.
“In North America there hasn’t been a spectator fatality at an actual air show in over 50 years, and a lot of that has to do with the regulations that everybody has to abide by,” he said. “Even auto racing has had almost 50 spectator deaths in the last 25 years ago.”
Despite all the best intentions, Swidrovich comments that dangerous professions like stunt flying and auto racing come with an element of risk.
He points out that air shows have been a popular form of family entertainment for almost a century.
“Ever since World War 1 when the pilots came back and tried to make a living,” he said. “They’d do the barn storming going from town to town doing some different stunts and tricks with their air craft. It’s been around for a long time, just like auto racing frankly.”
Swidrovich says pilots get into performance and stunt flying for the simple thrill of it and he says that’s also the appeal to the public.
In July 2005 two American civilian pilots died when their planes crashed while performing a mock dog fight demonstration at an air show in Moose Jaw. A third pilot who was part of their team died two years later at an air show in Ohio.