A small plane that was due to take part in an upcoming air show crashed shortly after takeoff Friday at an airport in eastern Pennsylvania, killing the pilot.
The crash at the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport occurred around 12:35 p.m., authorities said. The pilot was identified as Andy Travnicek of Hampton, New Hampshire. The 50-year-old commercial airline pilot and U.S. Air Force veteran was the only person on board and there were no injuries on the ground.
The plane was heading north when it suddenly veered to the left “for reasons unknown,” crashed into the grass and caught fire, said the airport director, Carl Beardsley.
The plane was part of the GEICO Skytypers Air Show Team, which flies World War II-era aircraft and was scheduled to perform Saturday at the Great Pocono Raceway Airshow.
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The GEICO Skytypers identified Travnicek as the pilot and said a “thorough investigation is already underway" in conjunction with the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with Andy and his family at this time,” the statement said.
The U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds demonstration team offered a “toast” to the fallen pilot on its Facebook page, saying Travnicek was a graduate of the Air Force Academy and a former C-5 Galaxy cargo plane pilot. He also flew other types of aircraft.
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“He was a phenomenal pilot and friend,” the Thunderbirds said.
Travnicek, a native of Southbridge, Massachusetts, completed military deployments in Spain, Qatar and Afghanistan and was a staff member at the academy.
“He enjoyed flying warbirds to honor the men and women of all eras and all branches of the U.S. military,” the Skytypers said.
Pocono Raceway expressed “deepest condolences” to the pilot’s family. It said it decided to hold the airshow as scheduled “after much consideration and with the support of the GEICO Skytypers.”
It was the second fatal Skytypers crash since 2018. That year, a vintage Skytypers plane went down in a wooded area in Melville, New York, killing the pilot.
The Long Island, New York-based Skytypers create aerial smoke messages and perform maneuvers using North American SNJ-2 World War II aircraft.