A veteran pilot and his passenger were killed Sunday afternoon when their World War II-era fighter plane crashed on a grassy hillside near Lower Otay Reservoir while participating in an air show, authorities said.
The pilot of the Corsair F-4U was identified as Marshall Moss, 60, of Santa Monica. Joyce Matthews of San Diego, the wife of Guy Matthews, another pilot taking part in the show at Brown Field, was riding with Moss when the reconditioned plane plunged nose first into the ground. Matthews was in her mid-40s.
"It's a tragedy," said Robert G. Moore, legal officer for the San Diego-area wing of the Confederate Air Force, the group that sponsored the three-day aircraft exhibit and demonstration. "There has never, to my knowledge, been a crash like this at one of our events."
Moore said the fateful flight was a "reward" for Matthews, a volunteer who had worked hard on preparations for the popular air show.
According to a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry, the crash occurred just after 3 p.m. about seven miles northeast of Brown Field on a remote brush-covered hill.
"It's a very inaccessible area, with the closest road just a dirt track," forestry Capt. Reg Jespersen said. "It took our units some time to get out there."
Plane Badly Mangled
Moore said there was no fire but much of the craft's fuel spilled out and the plane was badly mangled. It tore a large hole in the ground when it hit. Both Moss and Matthews were pronounced dead at the scene, Jespersen said.
What caused the plane to go down during the routine demonstration flight remained a mystery Sunday evening. Moore said one witness reported that the aircraft rolled upside down "inexplicably" just before it crashed. The witness said he watched as Moss tried futilely to right the plane before it struck the hillside and was all but demolished.
"We have no idea what could have happened," Moore said. "There are no aerobatics or anything very dramatic like that in our show. We basically do fly-bys. And we comply with normal airport traffic control and all FAA regulations."
Dubbed The Blue Max, the Corsair that crashed was a former fighter that had been modified with a second seat. It was similar to the one piloted by Marine Corps flying ace Gregory (Pappy) Boyington, played by Robert Conrad in the popular television show "Baa Baa Black Sheep." It was one of two Corsairs on display at the air show.
Moore said the antique planes have been restored and are diligently maintained by members of the Confederate Air Force, which has more than 10,000 members in 30 chapters throughout the United States and also has wings in Canada, Australia and Great Britain.
Planes in Good Shape
"The craft are in superb condition," said Moore, an Air Force colonel and a flier himself. "If you maintain these World War II planes, their life is virtually unlimited. And it's a labor of love with our group to keep them in impeccable shape."
The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating the crash.
Sunday was the final day of the Confederate Air Force's third annual exhibition at Brown Field. The organization, founded 30 years ago by veteran World War II fliers in Texas, has a squadron of 100 vintage aircraft in flying condition, among them a B-17 Flying Fortress and a P-38 Lockheed Lightning piloted by renowned military flier Lefty Gardner.
Moore said the crash had left members "in complete shock" but he predicted the tragedy would not preclude the presentation of future air shows.
"We have an impeccable safety record," he said, "and these aircraft are so diligently maintained. This is just a very shocking thing."