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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

His life was meant to be lived flying

He was a young man of the sky, Eric Dvoracek.

The 28-year-old with roots in Spokane as well as Coeur d’Alene was clear and firm about his love of flying; he resisted inducements to lower his gaze and steer away from the infinite blue.

Dvoracek died Wednesday when the single-engine Cessna he flew for King Airelines, a company that offered aerial tours of the Grand Canyon, crashed into a mountainside in the rugged canyon country that separates northwestern Arizona from the bottom tip of Nevada.

He was alone in the plane, having volunteered that morning to go aloft and check weather conditions in the Grand Canyon, serving as the scout plane for other pilots who had tours scheduled that morning. After the quick, routine weather run, Dvoracek looped away for some solo flying. The events leading up to the crash are still under investigation by the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board.

By Thursday night, his dad was in Nevada, trying to describe his son.

“He graduated from the University of Idaho with a degree in mechanical engineering,” Jim Dvoracek said. “But he never intended to use that degree … he wanted to join the Air Force and be a pilot.”

The Air Force turned Eric down, citing a last-minute test that revealed a mild case of exercise-induced asthma, Jim Dvoracek said. “But then the military offered him $50,000 to become a nuclear engineer in the Navy – on submarines.

“They even flew him to San Diego to wine and dine him. But he said no. He wanted to fly.”

Eric shifted gears, his dad said, went to flight schools in North Dakota and Arizona and intended to fly for the Forest Service, a spotter pilot who led the lumbering retardant tankers into the curtains of smoke from wildfires.

The story tailed off.

In the sudden hollow of loss, the Dvoracek family – siblings Brent and Kristen, Eric’s mom, Carla Jakabosky, and his dad – found themselves in Eric’s Las Vegas-area apartment Thursday night.

Soon, however, it became the heart of an impromptu wake as other young men of the sky gathered there, too. By early evening there were 23 in all, fellow pilots, all friends of Eric’s, who showed up to share pizza and stories with the family.

“This means the world to us,” Carla Jakabosky said. “They are all young pilots trying to work their way up to a career in commercial airlines. They start at these jobs flying tourists over the Grand Canyon. They are devastated. They consider themselves a family, a band of brothers sort of thing.”

“We’re all pretty young,” Eric Ulman, a fellow King Airelines pilot, said. “We’re a close-knit group.”

Passing a fading cell phone around the apartment, Ulman and several of Eric’s fellow pilots shared some memories.

“I climbed Mount Whitney with him this summer,” Ulman said. The two Erics and another friend hiked to the peak of the California mountain, which at 14,494 feet is the highest point in the lower 48 states. “We destroyed that mountain,” Ulman said. The group had such a good time they made plans to climb Mount Rainier next.

And what Ulman remembered most was Eric Dvoracek’s ever-present glee at hurling himself into the world.

“Him and I are both pretty competitive. We saw the top, looked at each other and we both took off running,” Ulman said. “But about 50 yards from the summit we slowed down. We decided we’d come all this way together and we’d finish together.”

Matt Krop, who flew for King before recently moving to another tourist carrier, said he and Dvoracek shared an enthusiasm for mountain biking.

“We did a 24-hour relay race in the Oracle, Arizona, area,” Krop said. “We didn’t know each other very well at the time.” But they did by the end of the race, he said. “In 24-hour racing it takes a lot to get out there in the middle of the night when it’s 25 degrees and blowing and it might even be snowing. Eric shared a story where he ran out of light. Here he was eight miles from the finish and no light – so you just work off whoever’s out there and try to ride behind them.

“It definitely makes for good camaraderie. The stories last for a long time,” Krop said. “One thing I want to share about Eric is this natural passion he had. I miss him for that.”

Several pilots mentioned that Dvoracek in recent weeks had tirelessly worked on a proposal to seek better pay and benefits for pilots. This despite the fact that he – at eight months with King Airelines – was the “old man” of the brotherhood. The canyon tour jobs are entry-level stepping stones where pilots typically stay only six months – long enough to rack up 1,200 hours in the air and qualify to fly for larger carriers.

Dvoracek had just begun looking for pilot jobs with cargo carriers based in the Northwest, his mother and father said, and probably was only months away from leaving King. Still, the other pilots said, working on a better wage proposal – one that wouldn’t help him – was a mark of his character.

“People have been talking about his experience with nature or his adventurous personality,” pilot Edward Pereira said. “I don’t know anything about that. I just know Eric was appreciated all along. He was one of those guys who was very approachable and he cared about you when you talked to him. People had only good things to say about Eric.”

And the young men of the sky, this band of brothers, was going to say goodbye in their own way.

Friday, Eric Dvoracek’s family was flown over the crash site by a senior pilot for King Airelines. Sunday, a memorial service and a flyover in formation are scheduled.

“They are going to do that one where one of the planes peels off for the person who is gone,” Carla Jakabosky said. “They are going to do that for him.”

On Saturday, Dec. 18, the family has scheduled a memorial service for Eric Dvoracek at St. Pius X Church in Coeur d’Alene, 625 E. Haycraft Ave. The service is scheduled to begin at 1 p.m.