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

Pilots in Spokane River crash were well known

By David Wasson and Kip Hill The Spokesman-Review

Lyndon Amestoy flew out of Felts Field so often he had a reserved seat at the Skyway Cafe. It’s next to a plaque commemorating pilots with the dubious honor of running over one of the blue lights separating the runway from the tarmac.

Amestoy’s name isn’t on that plaque. But Terry Maxfield, a waitress and former owner of the restaurant, said his regular spot may become a memorial honoring pilots who lost their lives too soon. He routinely stopped at the cafe with his son and grandsons.

“He was always involved,” Maxfield said. “He was just a very, very nice guy.”

Amestoy and Richard Runyon, who died in Thursday’s crash in the Spokane River, were certified pilots, performing a late afternoon test flight that ended in tragedy. Federal officials arrived Friday in Spokane to investigate the cause of the crash, but few details have been released about the events that led to the 1996 Piper Malibu sinking into the river, trapping Amestoy and Runyon for about 30 minutes before rescuers reached them.

Runyon, 64, and Amestoy, 60, died of chest injuries sustained in the crash, according to autopsy reports released Friday afternoon.

Amestoy listed his job title on LinkedIn as a sales consultant for Rocket Engineering, a local company that modifies aircraft engines to add power. The company did not return phone calls requesting comment Friday. The Federal Aviation Administration issued Amestoy a private pilot’s license in January 2010, according to agency records.

Runyon is listed as the owner and manager of the Flying R Ranch Airport in Cheney, and was a trustee of the Cheney United Methodist Church. He was a certified flight instructor, had a commercial pilot’s license and was certified as a repairman and builder of experimental aircraft, according to FAA records.

As investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board look into what happened prior to the plane crashing around 4 p.m. Thursday, state environmental regulators were taking steps to make sure a toxic stretch of river that was capped seven years ago remains undisturbed during the retrieval.

The strip of heavily polluted river bottom is near the north bank and begins about 150 to 200 feet east of the Upriver Dam, said state Ecology Department spokeswoman Brook Beeler. It was capped to state specifications with a mixture of coal, sand and gravel by Avista Corp. to trap the PCB-contaminated soil and keep it out of the waterway.

Among other things, Beeler said, state officials want to make sure that when the submerged wreckage is removed it isn’t dragged across the cap, which could break it and let PCBs escape.

The removal plans included using floats to first lift the plane off the river bottom before pulling it ashore, she said. Other emergency response crews established booms to catch the estimated 120 gallons of fuel that was on board the plane when it crashed.