(Orange, Texas)

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June 24, 2013

Wing walker, pilot had clean records



"From the day we met, we knew," Gantz said through tears. "We knew that it was something way, way special. He knew it, and I knew it. I felt like I'd known him my whole entire life."

Gantz, a nurse who loves gardening, said she and her husband loved going on long walks with their dog, Tucker. Schwenker would stare up at birds and planes in the sky, Gantz at all the flora and fauna along the way.

"I'm the earth person; he was the sky person," Gantz said.

She said Schwenker, a longtime ski patrolman and a civil engineer passionate about conserving and providing safe water, was no daredevil but an exacting pilot who took no unmeasured risks.

"When you see these guys it seems really risky, but they are the most careful, cautious, safety-conscious people you'll ever meet," Gantz said. "If the plane didn't sound right, if something was off, he wouldn't fly.

"I absolutely know something went wrong with the plane," she said.

Friends and family were working on planning funerals. Also planned for Schwenker was a celebration of his life that will include a flyover, his wife said.

Wicker is the third wing walker to die in two years.

From 1975 to 2010, just two wing walkers were killed in the United States, one in 1975 and another in 1993, said John Cudahy, president of the Leesburg, Va.-based International Council of Air Shows.

In 2011, Todd Green fell 200 feet to his death at an air show in Michigan while performing a stunt in which he grabbed the landing gear of a helicopter. That year, Amanda Franklin died two months after being badly burned in a plane crash during a performance in South Texas when the engine lost power. The pilot, her husband, Kyle Franklin, survived.

Cudahy said the recent spike in deaths appears to be a coincidence.

"It's not entirely an anomaly but not quite as dangerous as it would appear to be," Cudahy said.

It's too early to say whether Saturday's crash will lead to any changes in already high safety standards among wing walkers and their pilots, he said.

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