HARRISON TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WXYZ) - A wing walker, whose stunt went wrong during an air show at the Selfridge Air National Guard Base, has died. His death was confirmed by a spokesperson for Mt. Clemens Regional Medical Center.
Todd Green fell 200 feet from a moving plane as he tried to climb onto a passing helicopter. Officials said he was flying on a Steerman aircraft operated by John Mohr. When he fell, many people thought it was part of the act.
"All of a sudden something just trickled out of the helicopter," said Amanda Cull. "We thought he had a parachute because early guys were falling out in parachutes."
The 127th Wing released the following news release regarding the incident:
At approximately 1:30 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 20, 2011, during an acrobatic aircraft performance during the 2011 Selfridge Air Show and Open House, civilian performer Todd Green fell approximately 200 feet while attempting to transfer from a fixed wing aircraft to a helicopter. Mr. Green died as a result of the fall.
"The entire Selfridge family joins together in mourning the death of Mr. Green. Our hearts reach out to those who are impacted by this tragedy, including his family, friends and our many visitors who witnessed this tragic event," said Col. Michael Thomas, 127th Wing commander at Selfridge. "As Airmen, we understand the inherent risks associated with flight, but we aviators are a close-knit family, and when a tragedy like this occurs we all share in the loss."
Selfridge officials are working with the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Traffic Safety Board to investigate the accident.
Mr. Green was walking on the wing of a Stearman biplane flown by John Mohr and attempting to transfer to a helicopter flown by Roger Buis at the time of the incident. Mr. Green had successfully completed the maneuver during the air show on Saturday in similar weather conditions.
After Mr. Green fell, the initial emergency response was provided by the Selfridge Fire Department, 127th Security Forces, MedStar Ambulance and Michigan State Police.
Approximately one hour after Mr. Green fell, a limited flying schedule was resumed at the air show. All remaining acrobatic flying was cancelled for the day. After the incident, the following aircraft flew at the air show:
* An historic flight by two World War II-era military aircraft, a P-51 Mustang and an F4U Corsair.
* A flight by two U.S. Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet aircraft.
The decision to resume flying was made after consultation with the FAA, senior military leaders at the show and several of the air show performers.
Given the nature of the incident involving Mr. Green, the decision was made that there was no additional safety risk to the pilots or to those spectators who were visiting the air show.
The death of Mr. Green is the first flying incident at a Selfridge Air Show since 1994. Selfridge has been hosting air shows since shortly after the base opened in 1917. In recent decades, the show has been scheduled every-other summer. At this time, an air show is tentatively scheduled for 2013, though that schedule will be reviewed, as always, based on military mission requirements and the latest information on safety considerations.
On June 11, 1994, a privately-owned T-33 aircraft crashed on the base while performing during the 2004 Selfridge air show. The pilot of the aircraft, Ray Mabrey, a civilian, was killed in that incident.
Channel 7 viewer, Matt Torres shot video of green making two runs at the helicopter before the third try.
"They all gasped, and they said, I hope he's all right because when he fell, his body bounced a few times on the ground," said Matt Torres. "He had his hand almost there to grab the strap and then it looked like he didn't get it."
Minutes before the accident, correspondence on the announcer's radio can be heard that there was some worry about wind issues.
It was about 1:30 p.m. Sunday, on the final attempt, that the wing walker fell. No parachute and no safety net.
"I jumped the fence. We ran out and ran to his aide," said Darren VanBuren.
The Memphis firefighter and EMT raced to start emergency care on Green. He had been in the stands watching the show with his family. He was followed out by a surgeon from Ohio and two other doctors from the crowd.
"Everybody worked in perfect conjunction together," said VanBuren.
Despite their efforts, Green died from his injuries at the hospital. The wing walker had just performed the same stunt Saturday at the air show.
A video from his website shows how the stunt should look, and shows Green successfully grab the skid of the helicopter while standing on the wing of the bi-plane. It's a move the experienced stuntman performed numerous times before.
Sese was near the front of the crowd watching the stunt. He tells Action News that Green was making his third attempt at transferring from the wing of the bi-plane to the helicopter.
"He was reaching for the spar underneath the helicopter and just fell." Sese tells us. "It looked like a dummy falling to the ground. But when the emergency crews started rushing to the runway everyone knew it wasn't part of the stunt."
Sese says about a dozen spectators jumped the fence and rushed to the midfield area to help, but were quickly pushed back by the first responders. After that a stunned hush fell over the crowd as they waited for updates.
According to his website , Todd Green, a Michigan native, started performing aerial stunts over a quarter century ago. He is the son of legendary Hall of Fame aerial stuntman Eddie The Grip Green. Todd couldn't wait to follow in his father's footsteps, the website says.
On the WXYZ Facebook page Becky Eversole Soubeyrand identified herself as a cousin of Green and wrote, "He was doing something he loved. I am sure he would rather die no other way."
She went on to say, "He was following in his father's footsteps. He had been doing this kind of thing for over 25 years."
After the accident, the air show was stopped for about 30 minutes, it resumed shortly after that.