Spokane pilot George Freije had flown for nearly 50 years, racking up thousands of hours in the air before his experimental airplane crashed in a snowstorm.
Flights to New Mexico, Alaska and Wisconsin were among the longer journeys Freije had taken in the two kit planes he had built.
“It was just something that he was always so in love with,” Freije’s daughter, Jane Baker, said Friday. “He would fly just about anything.”
Freije, 73, and Dean Alan Cox, 48, died Thursday when Freije’s single-engine, four-seat Lancair IV crashed into an unoccupied house on the shore of Alpine Lake near Hayden.
The men left Felts Field in Spokane about 7 a.m. for a pilot’s conference in Billings, Mont. Their plane crashed at 7:48 a.m., shortly after refueling at the Coeur d’Alene Airport, where aviation fuel is cheaper than in Spokane.
Investigators have not confirmed who was piloting.
The National Transportation Safety Board is trying to determine what caused the plane to nose dive suddenly. Federal Aviation Administration investigators have collected the plane’s engine and other debris.
That wreckage is being stored at a facility in Deer Park, said Kurt Anderson, the NTSB investigator assigned to the crash. The evidence will be compiled over the next two weeks and it may be several weeks before a cause is determined.
Fog and heavy snow socked in the crash site Thursday.
Weather equipment at the Coeur d’Alene Airport showed that visibility improved briefly while the plane was at the airport, said Greg Delavan, airport manager.
The plane was cleared for takeoff at 7:45 a.m. The last radar contact was about three miles north of the airport, Anderson said.
The Lancair went down about four miles farther.
“I can’t even begin to imagine what would have happened,” said Baker, also of Spokane.
Freije and Cox met at Felts Field. The two became friends and were working on building a Lancair plane for Cox, she said.
Both men were well-known among Spokane’s aviation community, having flown for years. A March 5 memorial service is planned for them at Felts Field at 11 a.m.
Freije began flying in 1948 and owned Cessnas for several years, his daughter said. He took countless training classes, taught several others and had owned a hangar at Felts Field since the late 1970s.
Cox had a private pilot’s license, was rated for flying single-engine planes, and had a reputation for lending his plane or skills to anyone.
The drill company owner was a past president of the Spokane chapter of the Washington Pilots Association.
Freije, active in the Civil Air Patrol, received several flying awards, including a certificate for locating a downed airplane, Baker said. He also once flew a donor kidney to a patient in the Tri-Cities.
The grandfather of three also was known to drop parachutists and tow gliders from a Deer Park airstrip.
“He was the one they called,” said Baker, 34.
Freije began building his first kit plane, a two-seater RV-4, shortly after his wife died in 1983. He flew the plane to an annual experimental plane convention in Oshkosh, Wis.
By 1990, Freije had logged more than 5,000 flying hours. Last summer, Freije toured Alaska in the RV-4.
“He would get up in the morning and go to the airport,” Baker said. “Everyone there knew him. If they didn’t know him personally, they knew of him or his plane.”
Wanting a roomier, faster plane, Freije ordered the Lancair IV kit in 1992. He built the fiberglass aircraft and registered it with the FAA in January 1997, only days before retiring from Washington Water Power.
Freije flew the sporty, cross-country plane to New Mexico for a hot air balloon festival last October and stopped in Phoenix to visit family on his way back.
He held a commercial pilot’s license with instrument and single-engine ratings.
“Anything to do with flying, he’s just about done it,” Baker said. “It was his life, especially after my mom died. It became kind of his replacement for her.”
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