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Third fatal crash mars air festival

LAKELAND, Fla., April 16 -- The death toll in a weeklong aviation festival rose to five Tuesday when a Texas stunt pilot died when his plane flipped on landing. Charlie Hillard, 58, was killed as his refurbished Second World War Hawker Fury flipped tail over nose as he taxied following an afternoon performance on the fifth day of the central Florida town's annual Sun'n Fun Fly-In. An ambulance raced to the wreckage, but a hearse was dispatched soon after. 'He made one low pass with the landing gear down and turned around and came back in again to land,touched down and was rolling out and made a little jog,' said spectator Bill Roberts. 'Then he made a turn off the runway...the propeller hit the runway...and it flipped over on its back.' Hillard was a Fort Worth car dealer best known as the lead pilot of an aerobatic team called the Air Eagles for nearly 25 years. The team flew in air shows around the world. There was unconfirmed speculation that the brakes on one of the small craft's wheels may have seized, causing the plane to suddenly veer and topple. The accident was the third crash in the weeklong event that began Saturday. Friday, a 39-year-old Piper Cherokee carrying three people from the Washington, D.C., area crashed and burned while trying to land at the Lakeland airport, killing all aboard. Investigators have not released any details about their investigation into the cause of the crash.

Late Sunday, another small plane from New Jersey bound for the festival crashed into a the yard of a home in nearby Kissimee, killing the passenger, and injuring the pilot. No one on the ground was injured, although the aircraft came to rest some 20 feet from the front door of a house. Investigators say the plane ran out of fuel. Prior to this -- Lakeland's 22nd year of hosting the event for small and experimental aircraft -- there have been just four fatal accidents. Meanwhile, word of Hillard's death spread quickly in his hometown. Former Fort Worth Mayor Bob Bolen told United Press International that Hillard is 'probably best-known in this area for the aerobatic team that he put together and represented Fort Worth and the United States to the rest of the world. He was the finest pilot, period.' Jerry Brooks, a vice president at Hillard's car dealership, said the pilot 'always had every employee as his concern, and the families. He loved everyone.'

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