About 4 000 people watched in horror as pilot Gianfranco Cicogna plunged to his death at the Klerksdorp Air Show on Saturday.
Cicogna, 50, died instantly when his Civilian L39 jet nosedived into the ground and then exploded.
The Italian pilot, who lived in Joburg, had been performing an acrobatic manoeuvre alongside his partner, Charles Urban, when the plane crashed and burst into flames.
“People just stood there in silent shock. The duo entertained the crowd with their aerobatic performance and did several loops in the air which lasted for about 10 minutes.
“We saw Cicogna lagging back during the act as if something had gone wrong. Seconds later we saw his jet plunge into the ground and it exploded,” said Sandy Botha, divisional head of marketing for the city of Matlosana.
She said that about a minute after the first explosion there was another bang from the second engine.
“The provincial disaster management team on standby secured the area and doused the flames from the jet.”
Botha said there were immediate concerns as to whether to continue with the air show and a brief meeting with pilots was held.
“They decided to continue in honour of Gianfranco,” she said.
Jeff Wicks, Netcare 911 spokesman, said firefighters had extinguished the flames and had retrieved the pilot’s charred remains.
“The cause of the crash and the series of events preceding it remain uncertain,” he said.
Major Pieter Fouche, media liaison officer for the Klerksdrop Air Show, said an investigation was under way.
“We cannot speculate on what went wrong, however the accident will be thoroughly investigated by the Civil Aviation Authority,” said Fouche.
A medical standby team had assisted people who were in shock after witnessing the accident, he said.
“Our pilots are taught to always fly far away from the crowd. Thankfully this was the case and no one from the public was hurt. We are deeply saddened by Cicogna’s death, but the group decided that the air show will continue in his memory,” said Fouche.
Cicogna was born in Italy and had been a pilot for 26 years. He was a commercial pilot as well as an aerobat performer and belonged to the SA Air Show Club and Aero Club SA.
He had been due to perform at the Durban Air Show on July 14 and 15.