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Wing-walker falls to his death at Michigan air show

Kyle Franklin knows the risks of air shows. The Missouri pilot lost his wife, father and grandfather in airplane crashes. Now his friend Todd Green is dead after tumbling from the wing of a plane Sunday afternoon at the Selfridge Air Show in Harr...

Wing walker Todd Green falls from his airplane
Wing walker Todd Green falls to his death after losing his grip performing a stunt during an air show at Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Harrison Township, Mich., Sunday, Aug. 21, 2011. Green was trying to move from the plane to a helicopter above it before he fell. (AP Photo/The Macomb Daily, David Angell)

Kyle Franklin knows the risks of air shows.

The Missouri pilot lost his wife, father and grandfather in airplane crashes.

Now his friend Todd Green is dead after tumbling from the wing of a plane Sunday afternoon at the Selfridge Air Show in Harrison Township, Mich.

"It's really tragic," said Franklin, 31, a lifelong friend of Green and pilot. "We are not thrill seekers trying to cheat death. We love what we do. We all know the risks involved."

Green was one of a few stunt men worldwide brave enough to walk on the wing of an airplane, industry followers said.

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His dream was to perform chilling tricks like those of his father, Eddie (The Grip) Green, a legendary wing walker and skydiver who is an inductee of the International Council of Air Shows Foundation Hall of Fame.

But something went wrong Sunday at Selfridge Air National Guard Base as about 75,000 people looked on.

Green was balancing on a wing of a plane, trying to grab a helicopter's skid. The helicopter circled the plane twice for Green to attempt to latch on, but he fell on the third try, witnesses said.

Moments after an announcer took note of the wind, Green fell from a wing when he was unable to clutch onto the helicopter as part of a trick he had been doing for years.

The National Weather Service in White Lake Township said winds in the area around the time of the incident were westward at 15 m.p.h. It was unclear Sunday if the wind was a factor in the accident.

"My first thought was it was a mannequin falling because there was no movement at all," Christine Doran of Allen Park said. "I turned to Jeff (her boyfriend) and asked, 'That was fake, right?' "

Teri Kawa-White of St. Clair County thought she saw a crash-test dummy falling.

"He was trying to get to the helicopter, but then he fell," Kawa-White said. "It was very emotional to watch."

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Then came the paramedics and an announcement that the fall was no trick.

Green was taken to Mt. Clemens Regional Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.

"It's a tragedy that this type of accident occurred," Macomb County Sheriff Anthony Wickersham said. "Our hearts go out to the family."

Friends of Green said he was happily married and a gentle man.

"He was a lot of fun," Franklin said. "He was very easy going and loved performing. He was phenomenal."

Friend and stunt pilot Warren Pietsch couldn't believe the news.

"It's very sad to hear," Pietsch said. "He's done that trick a lot before."

The accident was at least the third fatality during the weekend involving performances at air shows.

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On Saturday, a pilot was killed in England when his plane plunged to the ground. A second pilot died in Kansas City, Mo., when his plane crashed while performing a stunt.

Franklin, who used to pilot a plane for Green to perform his aerobatic feats, knows the risks all too well.

He was flying a plane in May during an act with his wing-walking wife, Amanda Franklin, when they crashed at an air show in Texas. She died.

"It has been a hard year for the air show family," Franklin said. "We're like a tight-knit family, so when something happens, it hits us all hard."

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(c) 2011, Detroit Free Press.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

Related Topics: ACCIDENTSAVIATION
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