February 27, 1998 in Nation/World

2 Men Killed In Crash Were Respected Pilots Nobody Home When Plane Hits House; Cause Of Accident Unknown

Brian Coddington S Staff writer
 

Two men who died in a fiery plane crash that shook a rural neighborhood Thursday morning were respected Spokane pilots familiar with experimental aircraft.

The men on board the single-engine kit plane were identified as George Freije and Dean Alan Cox. Their ages were not immediately released.

Their Lancair IV kit plane was en route to Billings, Mont., from Felts Field in Spokane. It crashed into an unoccupied house on the north shore of Alpine Lake just after refueling at the Coeur d’Alene airport.

Witnesses said the four-seat plane circled the lake four or five times and nose-dived into a ranch-style house. The engine revved loudly moments before the crash, neighbors said.

“The plane went right straight down, full-power,” said Robert Mills, who witnessed the crash while retrieving his newspaper.

The plane crashed in a rural area among a cluster of houses on Ridgeway Drive.

“I was very lucky. Just thank God,” said Wanda Sims, whose single-wide mobile home is only yards from the crash site. “That was the only empty house on the block.”

Autopsies are planned in Spokane today, said Dr. Robert West, Kootenai County coroner. Federal Aviation Administration investigators have ordered toxicology studies on both men, standard procedure after a fatal crash, West said.

Both victims were well-known in the Spokane aviation community, having built and flown airplanes for years.

Cox owned a drilling company. He was a past president of the Spokane chapter of the Washington Pilots Association, said Bill Gothmann, a pilot who knew him.

He was quick to lend his plane or skills to anyone who needed them, Gothmann said.

“I once called him because our flying club didn’t have enough planes for an outing,” Gothmann said. “With not even blinking an eye, he said ‘no problem.’ He gave of himself to the aviation community.”

Freije retired recently from Washington Water Power Co., where he worked for 15 years as a journeyman mechanic, a company spokeswoman said.

He flew a RV-4 airplane for many years before recently building the fiberglass Lancair IV.

Keith Antcliff owns a hangar just down from Freije’s at Felts Field.

“He was the hardest working man,” said Antcliff, who used to swap tools with Freije. “When he got on a project, he worked on it with bulldog tenacity. He loved that airplane. He worked on it day and night.”

Investigators have not confirmed who was piloting the plane or what caused the crash. Freije owned the plane and was rated to fly by instruments - which was required by Thursday’s limited visibility. Cox had no such rating.

Fog and heavy snow blanketed the area about five miles north of Hayden Lake. The crash was reported at 7:49 a.m., said Bill Schwartz, Kootenai County disaster services director.

“We don’t know of any distress calls that were made at this point,” said Keith McGuire, National Transportation Safety Board regional director in Seattle.

Freije had a commercial pilot’s certificate with a single engine rating. He ordered the Lancair kit in 1992, built the plane and registered it with the FAA in January 1997.

Cox had a private pilot’s license and only single-engine rating.

At the time of takeoff from Coeur d’Alene, there was a 600-foot cloud ceiling, according to Kurt Anderson, an NTSB investigator. Visibility was 1-1/4 miles.

The flight tower at Coeur d’Alene Airport was not staffed Thursday morning. The pilot talked directly with Spokane departure control while he was on the ground and received clearance to take off, Anderson said.

Mills, who lives several blocks from the crash site, noticed the plane when it began circling overhead.

“A few minutes later he comes shooting through the clouds straight down,” Mills said. “A few seconds later he hit the ground. There was no explosion, only a thump.”

An explosion rocked the neighborhood less than a minute later.

Neighbors several blocks away reported that the concussion from the blast knocked pictures, clocks and a hunting trophies off their walls. One of them, Buz Rogers, said the impact forced open his front door.

“I expected it (the plane) to be out in the woods, not stuck in one of those houses,” Rogers said.

Marianna Rieg, who moved into the house last summer, was attending her mother’s funeral in Minnesota. Her house was destroyed.

Fire - fed by spilled airplane fuel and natural gas spewing from the house - quickly engulfed the building. Firefighters allowed the leaking gas to vent while WWP workers dug up the line to shut it off.

The plane’s wreckage settled into the basement of the 2,500-square-foot home.

FAA investigators collected the plane’s engine and other pieces of the wreckage. The NTSB will try to piece the parts together to determine a cause.

Antcliff flew to the Coeur d’Alene Airport shortly after Freije and Cox left there Thursday. He said the weather was poor, but “that shouldn’t have affected George.”

Cox and Freije were excellent pilots, said Gary Yeager, Spokane chapter president for the Experimental Aircraft Association.

“I know they’re both thorough about getting clearance, making sure everything is done the way it should be.”

Yeager remembered Freije as an excellent craftsman.

“They were both easy to get along with, very talkative, very sociable,” Yeager said. “They’ll be missed.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo;

Graphic: Lancair IV crashes near Alpine Lake

MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story:

CRASHED AIRCRAFT WAS BUILT FROM KIT

Spokane pilot George Freije ordered his Lancair aircraft kit from Neico Aviation, Inc., in 1992.

It was registered with the FAA in 1997.

The current kit price for the Lancair IV is $52,400. It’s a four-seater with retractable landing gear, said Robert Fair, Neico’s general manager.

“It’s one of the fastest airplanes built in its class,” he said.

In the 12 years the kits have been sold, there were 25 accidents investigated by the National Transportation Safety Board.

None of the completed investigations confirmed structural problems. There were, however, mechanical problems that could be blamed on the way the pilots built or maintained the planes.

“These are kit aircraft,” Fair said. “Sometimes, the pilots put in unapproved engines. They are the manufacturers.”

Brian Coddington

The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Brian Coddington Staff writer

Staff writer Adam Lynn contributed to this report.

This sidebar appeared with the story: CRASHED AIRCRAFT WAS BUILT FROM KIT Spokane pilot George Freije ordered his Lancair aircraft kit from Neico Aviation, Inc., in 1992. It was registered with the FAA in 1997. The current kit price for the Lancair IV is $52,400. It’s a four-seater with retractable landing gear, said Robert Fair, Neico’s general manager. “It’s one of the fastest airplanes built in its class,” he said. In the 12 years the kits have been sold, there were 25 accidents investigated by the National Transportation Safety Board. None of the completed investigations confirmed structural problems. There were, however, mechanical problems that could be blamed on the way the pilots built or maintained the planes. “These are kit aircraft,” Fair said. “Sometimes, the pilots put in unapproved engines. They are the manufacturers.” Brian Coddington

The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Brian Coddington Staff writer Staff writer Adam Lynn contributed to this report.

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