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Ballerina in the sky: The story of Jane Wicker, the wing walker41:40
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Jane Wicker hanging from the wing of her plane, Aurora. (Courtesy Mariano Rosales)
Jane Wicker hanging from the wing of her plane, Aurora. (Courtesy Mariano Rosales)

This is the story of a shocking event that sent Endless Thread producer Quincy Walters, and countless others, down a disturbing and fascinating rabbit hole about a small, daring group of people called wing walkers and a woman who wanted to live her life "to its optimum."

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Full Transcript:

This content was originally created for audio. The transcript has been edited from our original script for clarity. Heads up that some elements (i.e. music, sound effects, tone) are harder to translate to text. 

Ben Brock Johnson: Hey Amory.

Amory Sivertson: Hey Quincy.

Quincy Walters: Hey Ben and Amory.

Amory: Producer Quincy Walters, you are going to be our pilot today, wink wink. And we’re doing a story that’s been on your radar for a pretty long time now...

Quincy: Yeah, it’s a story that’s been on my mind for nearly a decade. And If I had to quickly summarize it to hook your interest, I’d tell you that it’s an unusual love story, and a story about an incident that a bunch of people, including me, can’t forget.

And one of the other people is Moe Daoust.

Moe: Okay. Uh, well, who I am is a Canadian living in Ottawa.

Quincy: Nine years ago, Moe was at an airshow in Dayton Ohio.

Ben: So like one of those things where you watch planes do stuff?

Quincy: Exactly. Military planes. Private plants. And so, Moe saw this thing happen, and he’s been writing a song about it ever since.

Moe (singing): I saw a ballerina in the sky, so beautiful and oh how she could fly. As graceful as a swallow in the air, performing feats that few would ever dare . . . 

Quincy: Another person at the same air show was Rock Skowbo. And he’s also been working on a very different project ever since that day.

Rock Skowbo: For people that see part of the original airplane, there’s very little else here in this big pile of junk that can be recognizable as her airplane. Sorting through what’s good and what’s bad takes a little bit of time. But it’s the meticulous detail of putting together the new plane that really takes the time. So you take it to the fine line between living and dying, sometimes, this is what happens.

Quincy: Moe and Rock and many others involved in this story are part of a scattered community of people whose memory of this event continues to exist online years after it happened. It feels like every year or two there’s another development or somebody comes back to reflect… a new piece of content. And I think I maybe have consumed all of it– or a lot of it.

Amory: How did you first hear about this incident at an air show?

Quincy: Honestly, the YouTube algorithm did it, I think. And I was also compelled by this idea of a tragic accident and a plane called Aurora that some people wanted to see fly again. There was a crowdfunding effort and an internet rabbit hole that I went down about this incredibly rare, extremely brave group of people called wing walkers.

Ben: I’m Ben Brock Johnson.

Amory: I’m Amory Sivertson.

Quincy: And I’m Quincy Walters.

Ben: And you’re listening to Endless Thread.

Amory: We’re coming to you from WBUR, Boston’s NPR station.

Quincy: Today… Ballerina in the Sky.

[MUSIC]

Amory: Quincy, you are a bit of an aviation obsessive. Is that fair to say?

Quincy: Yeah. That’s accurate. When I was a kid, I loved aviation. I wanted to be a pilot. I had model airplanes. I built all kinds of aircraft out of LEGO — some real stuff and ones from my imagination. And My parents would buy me WWII model planes and would take me to airshows. And, believe it or not, my first story on public radio was about me taking a ride in a B-17 Flying Fortress.

Quincy, archival: The fuselage of this WWII bomber creaks and whines as we taxi the runway. The 70 year old flying fortress was delivered in 1945 but never saw combat. Instead the B-17 carried cattle and fought fire ants.

Quincy: I haven’t attained my aviation dreams, but YouTube’s algorithm has clocked my interest and I always get a steady stream of various aviation-related videos, including videos of wing walking.

Ben: Okay, so Quincy, I sort of know the answer to this… but how would you define wing walking?

Quincy: So, anyone in the wing walking/aviation community will start off by telling you what wing walking isn’t. And they’ll say “wing walking shouldn't be confused with wing riding.” And now, wing riding is when a plane is on the ground and someone fixes themselves to a wing and they strap themselves onto a wing, the plane takes off and they ride the wing of the airplane. But wing walking, the distinction is that the person starts off in the cockpit of the plane. It’s usually a biplane – the wing’s on top and bottom, open cockpit. And when the plane is in the air, the wing walker will get out of the cockpit and climb up to the top wing and strap themselves in and pose and then they’ll go to a different position all without a rope or tether.

Amory: This is the stuff of nightmares, is what you’re saying. I don’t like flying, I think you both know that. I don’t love it. I don’t like heights. And I can only sort of imagine what it is that you’re talking about, but I think we should watch a little bit of it.

Quincy: Yeah I have got a wing walking video one you can watch.

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Ben: Oh good.

Amory: Oh no.

Airshow Announcer: And now she’s hanging upside down...

Amory: Woah. Okay. she has her legs wrapped around one of the bars that connects the top wing to the bottom wing and she just dangled from the bars. I hate that.

Airshow Announcer: Oh! She’s not done yet! Watch as Kirk repositions...

Amory: So she’s just sitting on the wing — I mean, I don’t mean just — but she’s sitting on the wing. Oh no. The plane has turned pretty much 90 degrees. Oh god She’s hanging off the bottom wing, upside down and then the plane turns upside down!

Airshow Announcer: Now Jane is sitting on top of her wing! As Kirk flies by, get a picture of that...

Quincy: Yeah, that was her signature move.

Ben: I know this is super rare. I went down my own rabbit hole on this a few days ago and saw something saying there are maybe only like 12 or 13 people in the world who actually do wing walking. Is that right?

Quincy: Yeah, Ben, that's that's right. You know, I think there might be more wing riders than wing walkers. It's such a sort of, you know, harrowing activity that not a lot of people do it. It's definitely fewer than 20 probably- close, closer to, you know, 10. But wing walking started in the early 20th century. I think the first, you know, recorded wing walk attempt was in 1918.

Amory: Wait, when was when did flight start? Have we been wing walking as long as we've been flying?

Quincy: Yeah. wasn't long before, you know, Kitty Hawk and where the Wright brothers took off and had their first flight. And people doing interesting things with with airplanes. So I mean, it's kind of a relatively new technology at that point. And, over the decades, the number of wing walkers hasn't really changed. I think in the beginning of it, there were  a few fatalities in it. And then in the 1930s, the U.S. government made it illegal to do wing walking below 1500 feet.

Ben: Oh, you got to go higher? OK, fair.

Quincy: Exactly. And that kind of put a damper on the sport because the human eye can't really perceive all the sort of intricacies happening.

Amory: I was thinking that. Yeah, this is definitely a binoculars-necessary kind of spectacle.

Quincy: Right, right. So I'm not necessarily sure if the law reverted, but wing walking is still a thing. In its heyday, you know, people would add to it where they would, you know, be on the wing of the plane and like transfer to a train or a car. And then later on, it kind of like developed into transferring over to another plane or walking onto another plane while still in the sky. But in the late 90s, early 2000s, we get a wing walker by the name of Jane Wicker.

Amory: Jane Wicker, the wing walker.

Quincy: Yeah, she was one of the few people to free walk. So you have, you know, wing walkers and then you have people who free walk, which, you know, the numbers dwindle a little bit to where, you know, she's going to different parts of the wing in different parts of the plane, without any kind of a tether or anything, and doing different poses. It's quite harrowing stuff.

Jane Wicker: I’m Jane Wicker and I'm going to do some good old fashioned barnstorming.

Amory: Well, there she is.

Ben: I have a feeling this one's going to give you some vertigo, Amory.

[VIDEO SOUND]

Jane Wicker standing on the top wing of her plane, Aurora. (Courtesy Mariano Rosales)
Jane Wicker standing on the top wing of her plane, Aurora. (Courtesy Mariano Rosales)

Amory (commentating): Oh, God. OK, she's crawling on top of the top wing because there's like two layers of wings. Oh no, she's standing straight up on top of the top wing. Is she connected to the wing?

Quincy: When she's getting into position, she'll get on the top wing and strap herself in and do a few poses, and then the plane will get into a different position and she'll unstrap herself and there's nothing connecting her at that time.

Amory: This is madness. Whew.

Quincy: This is Jane Wicker. And Jane Wicker has a very interesting, I guess, introduction into wing walking. She enjoyed aviation for most of her life, but she was a budget analyst at the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration). And but she went from, you know, budget analyst to, you know, being one of the best, I guess, most sought after wing walkers in the aviation world.

Beth Sommer: My name is Elizabeth Sommer, I am a wing walker at the Flying Circus I have a long list of things. I am a flight attendant. I am a private pilot as well. Yeah, all things flying, right?

Elizabeth, or Beth, met Jane Wicker in 1990. They both answered the same classified ad in the Washington Post for the Virginia-based Flying Circus Airshow, looking for people interested in wing walking. No experience necessary. But talent? Star power? Beth says Jane was a natural.

Beth: Just beautiful, beautiful lady, beautiful smile. Very charismatic, captivating.

Beth is actually responsible for introducing Jane to the pilot who would take her wing walking career — and her life, for that matter — to new heights.

Beth: I introduced her to Kirk. He was recently divorced and I met Jane when we were wing walking in training, and I just thought, I should introduce them. They both had a heart for aviation, and so we were at our balloon festival evening party with the balloonist and I introduced them and the rest is history. It was a great match.

Kirk Wicker: On our first date, I took her out flying and we did all the aerobatics and fun stuff.

Quincy: This is Kirk.

Kirk: And so, I said 'Are your belts on tight?' And she goes 'Yeah' and I roll the plane upside down about 50ft off the ground and she’s screaming and hollering and just absolutely blood curdling screams. I thought, 'That’s it, that’ll be the last date I’ll ever have' and I rolled right side up and she goes ‘Do it again! Do it again!’ and I said ‘I’m gonna marry you’ and I did! 

[Sound from TLC: Kirk Wicker pilots a barnstorming biplane dubbed The Beast. During the airshow season, his wife transforms into Beauty.]

Ben: You heard the announcer there say "barnstorming," which I actually looked up and learned was this way in which airplanes were kind of marketed to Americans in the early days. Pilots would perform stunts at these barn events around the country in the roaring twenties, I guess, Amory and Quincy?

Quincy: Mmhmm, that’s right.

Ben: That’s around the time they were doing and they were showing off their skills and really showing people who were skeptical of flying that it was cool and not scary. And wingwalking was I guess a part of that, Quincy?

Quincy: Yeah Ben.

Amory: (Laughs) What?! Wing walking is supposed to show that flight is cool and not scary?

Ben: Yeah, basically, yes.

Quincy: Yeah, it's supposed to sort of like normalize the, I guess, fantastical-ness of flight.

Ben: Yeah. Not only are planes no big deal, there's a guy climbing around on that plane while it's flying. Look at him. If he can do that, you'll be fine getting on a plane.

Amory: Not into it.

Quincy: They gave people airplane rides, which was also like a big part of it.

Ben: Huh.

Quincy: Yeah. And and like, like I said this is kind of like new technology. And for around this time, for the most part, airplanes were used a lot in in war, you know, World War One. So this kind of brought a sort of— I guess it's described as like one of the formal events of civil aviation.

So Kirk and Jane were continuing this tradition decades later as a married couple. They got hitched in 1993. And they were a true team. But a wing walking partnership, much like a marriage, takes work. And guts. And TRUST.

Kirk: She never expressed any fear whatsoever. I mean, if you think of how a ballet dancer goes out and practices and practices to have that perfect performance, that's what we did. And you know, we went through everything you know and trained for it, just like we were going to go out and perform in front of a live audience on a stage.

Quincy: And all of that training paid off, because to the wing walking community, Kirk and Jane were the king and queen of the sky.

Amory: I did not realize there was such a thing or that anyone would aspire to be such a thing.

Quincy: Exactly. I don't think a lot of people grow up, you know, imagining that. But Kirk and Jane received a royal welcome wherever they performed.

Kirk: So we would literally spend hours walking down the fence line and going to autograph sessions and signing autographs for people, I mean, to be out there for three and a half hours. And Jane just loved to interact with the kids. That was her thing. That fed our ego more than going out there and, you know, letting the people see all these wild and crazy, unusual things that you don't normally see all the people do. Doing that for the for the younger generation and then having putting hopes and dreams into their head of maybe being able to go out, do something like this, that's kind of cool. And that's what we like to touch on. And that's what Jane really focused on were the kids.

Quincy: And Somehow, in the midst of all their training and performing, Jane and Kirk had a couple kids of their own.

[Sound from TLC: Jane Wicker is a picture of a typical suburban wife and mother. With one notable exception: Jane is an extreme thrill-seeker.]

Quincy: Back in the early 2000s, Jane was featured on a segment of The Learning Channel about daredevils.

Jane: I get bored very easily. I’m the kinda person that will rearrange furniture every day or I start one project and then I get tired of it and I get into something else. And I need to be constantly stimulated.

Quincy: In the video from TLC, Jane says there’s a common misconception that she has a death wish. But she says the opposite is true.

[Sound from TLC: I have a wish to fulfill my life to its optimum and experience as much of it as I can. If I was to sit on my rocking chair, it’d be a pretty boring life. I will not do anything where there is even the smallest chance that something could go wrong.]

Kirk: And so we we practiced for the bad things, and she had enough faith in me and she told me, you know, you know, flat out she goes, ‘no matter what has ever happened between us, you are the best pilot I could ever imagine there being on this planet.'

Quincy: Whatever ‘has happened’ between them, Kirk says, because in 2002, he and Jane got divorced. Their romantic relationship was grounded.

But as pilot and wing walker, they were destined to soar again. Kirk had sold the plane they used and it was hard for Jane to find a new one or a new pilot.

But eventually, it was a new plane and the same old pilot who got Jane back off the ground.

Airshow Announcer: Let’s wave some encouragement, everybody, to Jane Wicker who’s going to give you . . .

Quincy: In a YouTube video from 2011, we see a video of Kirk and Jane doing their harrowing routine at the Flying Circus Airshow where they met.

Airshow Announcer: Now you have to really know your airplane’s envelope. And Kirk Wicker, for those of you Kirk Wicker fans, he’s checked out something like 130 different airplanes.

Quincy: The duo’s new plane: a beautiful, bright white, yellow and red refurbished biplane they called Aurora, the Latin word for dawn — chosen by Jane, she said, because it was her new dawn of wing walking. It had a special inverted fuel system that made it possible to fly upside down.

Amory: I don't know about you guys, but I have a list of things I never want to do, like drive a tractor trailer, shave my head, and now I'm going to add flying upside down. Firmly on the list.

Airshow Announcer: With one of the very very best wing walking pilots in the world, Kirk Wicker doing the flying. Jane Wicker ladies and gentleman. She is one of the best. . .

Quincy: So it’s two years later, the morning of June 22nd, 2013. It’s a Saturday. Jane Wicker’s getting ready to perform at the airshow in Dayton, Ohio, and a local news station, WDTN, interviews her about her act.

Jane Wicker:  The two dramatic things I do is I hang underneath the airplane by my feet and we roll upside down while I’m doing that.

Reporter: Oh alright. We’re gonna talk more with Jane if you can stay with us, because there’s a very interesting fact coming up. You’re not gonna believe who her pilot is. It’s her ex-husband. . . . 

Quincy: And, at this time, her mechanic and crew chief… is her new fiancé, Rock Skowbo, also an aviator. The plan is for Rock and Jane to get married on her new plane… Aurora.

Ben: So, The ex flies her plane. The new guy…FIXES her plane…

Amory: And they’re both just trying to keep her happy!

Quincy: Yeah, it’s interesting, I guess, to say the least. And in April of 2013, the three talked about their unique dynamic on the Florida Aviation Network.

Host: Ohhhhh my god.

Jane: So we’re one big happy family.

Kirk: So, you know, when I'm up there flying Jane, he's making sure that the airplane’s, you know, in great shape, because he wants to make sure she gets back OK, because he cares very deeply for her. I'm caring for her because she's the mother of my children and I don't want to see anything happen to her.

Jane: We love what we do. And, you know, personality-wise or personal issues aside, it's like, that's passed. And you know, this is a great example of, you know, you can get along. You can work together. You know, you can get past anything.

Quincy: Anything like death-defying aerial acrobatics without a parachute.
And Jane’s wing walking act, back then, was truly a one of a kind thing to behold.

And Kirk and Jane talked about pulling off her signature move, the “on top of the world maneuver” — the one we saw in the videos where Jane goes from hanging upside down from the plane’s wing to sitting on top of it when the plane turns upside down.

Kirk: Having her out on the wing does create a lot, well, a lot of drag.

Jane: Be careful! Be careful!

Host: Don’t get in trouble now!

Kirk: I have to deal with aerodynamic drag. I have to deal with with the weight and my my, my right leg and my my right arm probably get a lot stronger during airshow season because I have to carry a lot of right rudder and a lot of right aileron as she goes out on the left side. But we've been doing this for so long together that we just We can kind of look at each other and know.

Jane: I can tell by his eyes. We can look right in each other’s eyes and know exactly what's going on.

Host: You can look right in each other's eyes that you develop that that sixth sense where you don't really need to talk. 

Quincy: Back to the airshow in Dayton, Ohio. Our songwriter from earlier, Moe, was there with his wife. It was a little subdued because the military demonstration, which Moe came all the way from Canada for, was not going to happen.

Moe: So that was kind of disappointing. But uh, we went anyway. And of course, the first, aircraft to go up pretty well was Jane Wickers.

Quincy: But something was different. Jane was not performing with her usual pilot, Kirk, even though his name was probably still on the program. It just so happened that Kirk had a last minute work thing come up. So the plane was being flown by another pilot, Charlie Schwenker.

And just a heads up, some of what I’m about to play for you is pretty disturbing.

[VIDEO FROM AIRSHOW]

Announcer: Hanging upside down on a barbell or something. The strength!

Moe: We were probably, I don't know, I'm going to guess 50 yards away. So we could see very, very clearly. And—

And what you could see is Aurora wowing the crowd by flying close to the ground, making tight turns. Sure enough, Jane is hanging upside down from the wing.

Announcer: And then you have to fight the wind and then you have to get yourself back upright. Now, you think that Jane is gonna disappear from us. Now she’s still on that far side. Keep an eye on Jane. Keep an eye on Charlie. Watch this Jane Wicker, sitting on top of the world!

Quincy: But then, suddenly…

[SOUND OF PLANE CRASH]

Quincy: The plane drops out of the sky, slams into the ground, and immediately explodes in a fireball. A wheel flies up in the air.

Moe and his wife watched the whole thing up close.

Moe: I just couldn't believe what my eyes were seeing. It was almost in slow motion, like, literally, you just can't believe what you're seeing.

Announcer: We're going to ask, ladies and gentlemen, number one that you turn your kids away from the scene. Number two, don't try to help, we're going to send folks on the way to get to the scene as quickly as possible. 

Moe: I remember distinctly, I turned away. I couldn't look. And I just, uh, I think I uttered something like, 'Oh my God, no,' or something like that.

Announcer: Now Rob Ryder and I, along with the airshow officials, will be keeping you posted of what's happening to the best of our ability. We will keep nothing from you.

Amory: Wow. The plane dropping from the sky is so quick.

Ben: So fast.

Amory: It's like she's up in the air, and then the plane just plummets sideways and— whew.

Quincy: Yeah, my first introduction to Jane Wicker was through this very violent YouTube video and like you said, it's jarring. It's one of those things that gets seared into your memory forever or a really long time— something where you see someone living and then not.

Ben: Yeah, I mean, I've seen this and I've seen some things like this on the internet, and it does have a kind of you can't go back vibe after you watch it. It's hard to forget.

Quincy: Right and I wrestled with whether or not I should mention this, but there are a lot of videos and high resolution photos showing the moment of impact that have been posted online. They’re on YouTube, Reddit, the recently-shut-down gory video site Liveleak. They’re horrible and haunting, but they're also the reason why so many people, myself included, know about this crash and why the story of Jane Wicker has continued to live on online.

Jane Wicker and her plane, Aurora. (Courtesy Mariano Rosales)
Jane Wicker and her plane, Aurora. (Courtesy Mariano Rosales)

Amory: Wow. For this to be your introduction to Jane Wicker— I'm really glad that you went back and found this whole story of who she was, what is wing walking. Because you look at something like this and it just looks like something gone very, very wrong, and clearly it is, but knowing what we know now — having the introduction to her that we have had by hearing just the experience and the training and the relationships all wrapped up in this — and then to see it go in seconds is really, really chilling.

Airshow Announcer: What I want you to do now, especially if you’re with children, simply turn around. Simply go back to the ground display and relax if you would. It may be a big job that you hear from me but that’s the best thing you can do especially if you have children.

Beth: I found out through a friend who was at the airshow that day. He sent me a text: do you know Jane Wicker and Charlie Schwenker? And I thought this is really weird. Why is he texting me that?

Quincy: Jane’s friend Beth was at work as a flight attendant, and she had just gotten cell phone service back after landing in Chicago, far away from the Dayton airshow.

Beth: And then he told me and, as you can imagine, it was just breathtaking. And I never got to see her wing-walk with her new aircraft.

Quincy: And it didn’t take long for some people on the internet to speculate that Jane’s ex-husband pilot intentionally crashed the plane. A classic jilted lover conspiracy theory.

Ben: But it was Charlie Schwenker in the cockpit...

Quincy: Right. And Charlie had flown Jane before. But Kirk was about to head to the airfield to meet back up with Jane, looking forward to flying her, as usual.

Kirk: And I was going to be there to fly her on Sunday, and I was literally walking out the door of my shop, and that's when I got the call that the accident had occurred and kind of put everything into a whirlwind type situation for me.

Quincy: The Jane Wicker story could have ended here. But, thanks to the people who loved her, it doesn't.

More in a minute.

[SPONSOR BREAK]

Quincy: Moe Daoust, the songwriter we heard from at the top, is still processing the death of wing walker Jane Wicker, musically.

[Moe, singing: Ballerina, please don't go. It's much too soon, no, please don't go. On that hot Ohio day, you took my heart and breath away. You thrilled me with your lofty dance, touched my soul, held me in your trance.]

Moe: I've rewritten the song so often because I just wasn't quite happy with it. It didn't. It didn't, uh, express the the emotion and the feeling of the whole thing. In my final version, you can you can actually, if you close your eyes, you can you can visualize her flying up.

Quincy: And then there’s Rock, her crew chief, her mechanic and her fiance, who is left to pick up the pieces and put them into his garage.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sw_lAhmO0xw

Rock: This is a fuel tank in Jane’s airplane. And as you can see, it’s pretty well-destroyed. This is a tail wheel. The tail wheel on Jane’s airplane is still usable. The whole back part of the fuselage – a lot of the parts are still usable there.

Quincy: So at the end of 2013, Rock started a crowdfunding effort.

Rock: I know that Jane would have wanted me to rebuild this airplane, so I’m going to rebuild it. So hopefully I can move on with that. But then again, it may remind me too much of it and maybe I’ll have to sell it or—

Quincy: Rock told me a few years back that he had $125,000 invested in this effort. He was looking for $50,000 more. A Facebook page, Save Aurora, has helped and drawn monthly contributors to the cause.

It seems like it weighs heavy on him. And, like so many people I’ve talked to about Jane, he’s in this sort of grey area of trying to move on and still trying to carry on her legacy and the legacy of Aurora.

Beth, Jane’s old wing walking friend, was trying to figure it out for a while, too. She had every reason not to want to wing walk again. In the year 2000, her brother died in a plane crash during a flight lesson. A year later on September 11th, she lost several friends who were flight attendants on the plane that was flown into the Pentagon.

Beth: So, I went from loving aerobatics to being a nervous flier.

Quincy: But then, in 2018, 5 years after Jane died, Beth got back out on the wing, just as she was turning 50.

Beth: I fully believe that, you know, God put us here to live this life. And I'm going to live this life. I'm living it for two people: I'm living it for me and my brother. And, you know, when I'm up on that top wing, I just feel so much joy. And I just always think about my brother and I just always ask God if you know, Mike gets to peek down that he gets to see me what I'm doing. And I just I just can imagine he would be smiling, you know?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w1WypaXYDO8&t=148s

Airshow Announcer: Alright. Let’s watch Beth as she climbs out to the end of the wing. Out to the end of the wing. No parachute, no safety rope!

Quincy: Beth is glad to be back in the air, whether someone’s watching from above or below. But she thinks Jane Wicker achieved heights that few will ever reach.

Beth: I mean, hey, what we do is pretty fabulous. But what she did was just amazing. You know? She was a pro.

[MUSIC]

Quincy: Jane’s ex-husband and longtime pilot Kirk Wicker says that he stopped flying acrobatically right after the accident. He didn’t want to risk their two sons losing both of their parents. But he still thinks about that day.

Kirk: Without a doubt, if I was flying her she'd still be alive. No question. I just want to quantify that — I'm not degrading the pilot that was flying her. Matter of fact, he had my total blessing. He was a very good, very experienced pilot and, you know, to be flying the mother of my children, you had to have some damn good skills. He just made a mistake. Mistakes happen. But it's just quite unfortunate that it happened. And being, you know, that my kids and all and myself, you know, we were all deeply affected by it, but we've got to live and move on.

Quincy: The National Transportation Safety Board agrees with Kirk, by the way. They concluded the crash was a result of pilot error — specifically, too tight of a turning radius while Jane was changing position on the wing. I should mention, though, that none of this has deterred one of Jane's own son's from trying to get his pilot's license.

Ben: Wow. Quincy, where do you land on this? You got served up this video by YouTube because you were interested in flying, but does Jane Wicker’s story change how you think about aviation?

Quincy: I guess you know this fits into the grand story of aviation – that it’s not all success. It’s about people testing the capabilities of themselves and of machines they build and rebuild. And because of that, accidents are going to happen. But people do a lot to prevent them from happening.

And it’s also sort of interesting to know that I’m not the only one who’s been thinking about Jane Wicker all this time and who hasn’t been able to get this out of my mind. Because, on the Youtube videos, you see comments that were posted recently about people who were there, who saw it years ago and they can’t get it out of their mind. And to Moe Daoust, writing and rewriting his “Ballerina, Please Don’t Go” song. I don’t feel like as much of a weirdo for being so captivated by this story for all these years.

Ben: Nor should you. Aviation is already a daring feat of humanity, right? Wing walking is pushing the envelope on that idea even further with even greater risks.

Amory: And with all things that are risky, it really comes down to whether you let those risks ground you, or you take flight in spite of them.

[Announcer: Ladies and Gentleman. Kirk has cleared the runway. Jane Wicker has cleared the runway. One last round of applause for Jane Wicker!]

Ben: Quincy, thanks for bringing us Jane’s story.

Quincy: Thanks for letting me tell it.

[MUSIC]

Quincy Walters Twitter Producer, WBUR Podcasts
Quincy Walters is a producer for WBUR Podcasts.

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