WESTMINSTER, Colo. (AP) _ An F-86 fighter jet crashed in a huge fireball before 50,000 people watching at an air show in a Denver suburb Sunday, killing the pilot, officials said.

The Korean War era Saber Jet failed to pull out of a steep dive and plowed into the ground 300 yards from the nearest spectators at Air Show Colorado '97. No one was hurt on the ground.

``It was just a huge fireball, it went a couple of hundred feet in the air,'' said Paul MacGregor, a radio talk show host who was watching the show through high-powered binoculars.

The pilot was identified as Capt. Jack Morris Rosamond, 63, a retired United Airlines pilot who lived in Golden and often participated in air shows. He had 5,000 hours in the F-86.

The fighter climbed straight up, did a loop and then came straight down, MacGregor said. The jet crashed east of the crowd.

``It seemed like five minutes. We just stood there in awe with our jaws on the ground,'' said Dan Mayer, Westminster police spokesman.

The National Safety Transportation Board sent a team to the crash site to determine the cause of the crash.

Jim Czupor, spokesman for the show's organizers, said it was canceled after the crash. The promoters had hoped to stage the event every two years.

In 1948 the Saber Jet became the first U.S. military jet to break the sound barrier. The plane that crashed Sunday was manufactured in Canada and had been restored recently.

The last fatal crash at an air show was June 2, 1996. Four people were killed at Bartlesville, Okla., when two biplanes clipped wings while coming in to land.