Five of the planes, part of a group called the War Birds, were leaving to do a demonstration at another event when Dan Schiffer’s plane stalled, clipped a tree, hit the ground and twisted over before landing upright in a blueberry field adjacent to the runway, Hatfield said.
A man from Grand Rapids, who was a doctor in the Vietnam War, was one of the first on the scene, Hatfield said.
A neighbor, who is a nurse, and who was watching the event, was also one of the first responding.
“It’s one of the things I never thought I’d see,” said the neighbor, Alice Kieft. She helped give aid to the man after he was helped out of the airplane.
“A bunch of guys got him out fast,” she said.
Ann (Hatfield) Grahek, whose father owns the air strip, said, “We heard the engine spitting.” She said it quit and the wing hit the tree, which was off the north side of the runway.
“As he came down lower, his wheel hit the ground. It twisted him over and he landed in the blueberries,” she said.
Grahek said the engine separated from the plane in the crash.
“That was probably what kept it from catching on fire,” she added.
The North American AT-6, a World War II airplane, was badly damaged in the crash. It was the fourth in a line of five airplanes taking off at the time.
Hatfield said the fifth plane was halfway down the runway, but the pilot was able to abort his takeoff when the plane in front of him crashed. The pilots of the other three planes returned to the airstrip, Hatfield said.
The accident was being investigated by the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Department and the Federal Aviation Administration, said OCSD Sgt. Keith Garvelink.
The Crockery Township Fire Department and North Ottawa Community Hospital Ambulance also responded to the scene.