Charlie Schwenker was consumed in a ball of fire when his biplane crashed during an Ohio air show Saturday.
The crash was caught on film, allowing thousands to see the aircraft roll upside-down, wingwalker Jane Wicker sitting on the wing, before darting sharply into the ground.
It was a startling end to what Charlie’s brother David Schwenker described as a careful and measured life.
“That’s why this is such a shock,” he said. “Charlie was such a meticulous guy.”
David Schwenker, a 67-year-old retired cardiologist and Queensbury resident, had a lot in common with his brother. They spent their youth together in the backwoods of the Adirondacks.
“We were both Eagle Scouts,” David said. “We did a lot of camping and skiing.”
The Schwenker brothers grew up in Glenville, then the family moved north in the 1960s. Charlie Schwenker attended Glens Falls High School, graduating in 1966. He went to Clarkson University, then moved out of state in 1971.
David came back to Queensbury after his own education, but Charlie moved to Virginia. Even with the separation, both became pilots.
“I don’t know how we started flying,” David Schwenker said. “We just did.”
His interest ended with traditional flight, while Charlie went on to aerobatics. Working as an engineer in Virginia, Charlie met a group of airline pilots who did trick flight in their off time.
They taught him their techniques, and over many years he gained entry into a senior group of trusted pilots. Sixty-four may seem too old to be daredeviling around, but David said age means wisdom in the small industry of aerobatics.
“It might look dangerous, but he’s been doing it long enough, I wasn’t concerned,” said David.
Charlie preformed at many air shows, but never any as large or important as his final appearance. The Vectren Air Show near Dayton is one of the best in the country.
“When Charlie was invited to fly,” David said, “he didn’t want to miss the chance. It’s a premier show.”
Saturday afternoon, David got a phone call. His sister-in-law said Charlie was dead. He looked up the video.
Sunday night, he was still in shock, but said the family is doing “OK.”
“Flight was his passion,” he said. “If he’s going to go, it’s not a bad way. I just wish it had been 20 years later.”
Charlie Schwenker leaves behind his wife, Susan, along with stepchildren and grandchildren.
The Federal Aviation Administration and other agencies are currently investigating the accident, but results are not expected for several months.