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Feds probe air show crash

Some residents near Hillsboro accident site call for an end to the annual flight festival after a California pilot perishes last Sunday
by: photo by Mateusz Perkowski, The wreckage of a 1951 Hawker Hunter jet sits in Hillsboro's Sunset Downs neighborhood after crashing last Sunday.

Federal Aviation Admini-stration officials on Tuesday resumed their investigation into Sunday's fatal crash at the Oregon International Air Show as some neighbors began questioning whether the popular annual event should be scrapped.

Although FAA officials have declined to speak to the press, Connie King, public information officer for the Hillsboro Fire Department, said federal investigators were in the process of collecting evidence related to the crash, which killed pilot Robert Guilford.

Guilford, 73, took off in his 1951 Hawker Hunter jet at about around 4:30 p.m. as to leave the two-day event, held at the Hillsboro Airport. The bright blue jet had been on display, but had not performed during the event.

The plane banked over a stand of trees and crashed into a house near the intersection of Northeast 60th Avenue and Northeast Harvest Street.

No one was hurt on the ground, but the impacted house was left a smoking black ruin.

'Twenty years ago last August I broke ground (on my home),' said Donna Reynolds, who was at a garden show when the jet fell out of the sky and landed on her house. 'Our ground has been broken a second time, so to speak.'

Three surrounding homes received varying degrees of damage from the resulting fire.

Fire and rescue crews searched the area Sunday night as black smoke billowed into the sky from the scorched lot where the demolished home once stood.

King said firefighters extinguished the major flames within 20 minutes of their arrival but were still fighting remnants of the fire at 7 p.m. One firefighter - who was on the first fire truck at the scene - was hospitalized with heat exhaustion.

Other factors besides the initial crash helped escalate the flames, King said.

'There were secondary explosions of jet fuel,' she said. 'The plane had magnesium components. It's an exotic metal, which when you add water to it, intensifies the fire.'

King said crash site investigators will remove the remaining plane parts as part of their effort to determine what happened. Their official report may not be released for several weeks.

Witnesses at the Air Show report that Guiliford's plane seemed to lose power shortly after it took off. They watched as it glided silently over the ridge of trees and out of sight, crashing into Reynolds' unoccupied home, located just north of Cornell Road and east of Shute Road.

Some residents of the Sunset Downs neighborhood expressed concerns about their homes' proximity to the yearly aerobatics taking place at the Hillsboro Airport.

'I think they need to re-evaluate the air show. I don't know if the risks are worth it,' said Jack Jenkins, who posted a sign reading 'No More Air Shows' in front of his home. 'Most neighbors say it wasn't a matter of 'if' it was going to happen, but 'when.''

Jenkins' daughter, Emily, 15, was in a hot tub in the family's backyard when she and a friend noticed the plane slowly descend overhead and then disappear.

'We didn't see it hit, but we saw the fire. We figured it was hitting but weren't sure how close until we saw the flames,' Emily said. 'We were kind of in shock, and it didn't really hit us until we saw everyone running out in front of my house.'

Other neighbors who witnessed the incident said they had never before considered the possibility of a crash in the neighborhood. Paul Woodson was in his home when he heard a noise 'like a jet was breaking the sound barrier,' and ran outside.

There, he encountered the home of his neighbor - a stone's throw away from his own - completely engulfed in flames. 'There was lots of cracking and things exploding in the house,' he said.

Although the air show was an especially noisy event, Woodson said he never thought of it as dangerous. 'I never worried about it much,' he said. 'We have planes flying over all year long.'

Guilford was a Los Angeles lawyer and vintage plane buff.

His son, Steve, told the Los Angeles Times on Monday that his father had owned the British warplane for four years and a few months ago had it inspected by a former mechanic for the Royal Air Force. He also said that the plane's ejection seat, which had the ability to eject at low altitude and low speed, had recently been overhauled.

Steve Guiliford speculated that his father attempted to minimize damage on the ground by not ejecting and staying with the plane, the Times reported.

For Reynolds, whose home was completely destroyed by the plane crash, the incident is both a tragedy and a relief. On the one hand, her house and possessions were decimated. On the other, she could have been inside when it happened.

Reynolds and a group of friends were returning from a garden show when they saw a plume of smoke in the neighborhood. Although she first assumed it was part of the show, Reynolds knew something had gone awry when 'it didn't dissipate like all the others,' she said.

When she learned it was her home the plane had crashed into, the realization of what could have happened felt surreal, said Reynolds, who works for as a technical writer for Beehive.org, which helps low-income people connect with resources.

Initially, Reynolds thought her experience must have felt similar to that of people who lost their homes in Hurricane Katrina last year.

On second thought, she realized she had a big advantage.

'I didn't lose my community or my neighbors,' said Reynolds, who plans to re-build on the property. 'I've been taking it one step at a time.'

The air show, one of Washington County's most popular events, is in its 19th year and has never had an accident until Sunday's crash. Until recently it was part of the Portland Rose Festival. The show typically draws about 65,000 people each summer.

Organizers say they hope the show will continue. They plan to meet with city officials as more details of the crash come to light.

Jaime Valdez and Ryan Geddes of the Pamplin Media Group contributed to this story.