FREDERICKSBURG, Texas (KXAN) — Two days after the fatal plane crash that killed its pilot and passenger, new details from possible witness accounts could reveal more information about what may have led up to the tragedy.
Cowden Ward, 73, and his passenger, 93-year-old Vincent Losada of San Antonio, who was a WWII B-17 pilot, died after the plane crashed in the parking lot of a Fredericksburg apartment complex Saturday afternoon, the Associated Press reports.
A spokesperson with the Federal Aviation Administration said the crash happened around 3:15 p.m. and involved a World War II P-51D Mustang fighter plane.
State Representative John Cyrier, R-Lockhart, is a licensed pilot and has always had a passion for aviation. In fact, he’s flown the exact model plane involved in the fatal crash.
“I kind of grew up with aviation and especially the warbirds, the old fighters, and airplanes from World War II,” Cyrier explained. “It doesn’t matter if you fly fast jets or modern airplanes, true aviators want to fly a P51 Mustang.”
Rep. Cyrier also knew the pilot involved thanks to the local aviation community. He says it’s a tight-knit group.
“I was fortunate to have met him several times and have seen him at different fly-ins and flying occasions, or air shows,” Cyrier said.
The last time he saw Ward was in July at the national Oshkosh Air Show in Wisconsin.
“He had a large heart. Big heart. This is his own private money. This is his own time that he gave to our veterans,” Cyrier said about Ward. “This is an opportunity for us to give back.”
Cyrier also flies veterans in his plane. It’s something he says Ward was passionate about too.
“When I take up the veterans and when they go with me in my Stearman biplane, they’re just as excited as I am,” he said. “Obviously, it’s a big thrill for us as the pilot and as the owner of the aircraft, to be able to take up one of our heroes, or hear their stories of actually what it was like. But it’s just as much a thrill and a love for those veterans, as well.”
Local aviation attorney Michael Slack says these veteran flights are a commendable practice, but they’re not always the safest option.
“Before a pilot starts putting people in a military-style aircraft, they need to think twice about who they’re introducing into the risk matrix,” Slack told KXAN. “These aircraft were built for combat. They’re high-performance aircraft and they’re demanding aircraft. Maintaining an aircraft of this age can be a challenge because of the scarcity of parts and the fact that sometimes the parts have to be fabricated.”
Despite those demands, Slack says typically he sees issues corresponding to either a piloting or operation problem with vintage aircraft crashes.
“Generally speaking, the age of a well-maintained, properly-maintained aircraft is not that important. What matters is the pilot and how the pilot operates the aircraft,” Slack added. “The one thing I’ve heard from talking to people in Fredericksburg is that when you piece it all together, it sounds like that there’s the possibility that the pilot was doing a roll maneuver and may not have started the maneuver by pulling the nose high enough.”
This information has not been confirmed by either of the federal agencies involved in the investigation.
“These airplanes and the people that maintain them, and own them, they’re extremely well-maintained. There are licensed mechanics that check them and go through them each year. But it is a mechanical device. It is a machine and accidents do happen,” Cyrier said. “Sixteen people lost their lives in a hot air balloon. Accidents do happen. It could be a bus. It could be a car. It could be walking down the street.”
After his constituents dealt with the grief surrounding the July 2016 hot air balloon crash in Lockhart, Rep. Cyrier says he’ll wait to learn the cause of this vintage aircraft crash. He knows these things take time.
“NTSB is all over the investigation and I know that they will come to the right conclusion and understand what happened in this horrific accident,” he said. “You go through training and safety, and we take that very seriously. I know all pilots do.”