The business of aerial application, or even general aviation, can be a dangerous endeavor. There is very little margin for error, which often can be deadly. If we stay in the business long enough, eventually we lose a loved one, friend or associate in a fatal accident. I have lost many over the last 43 years and it is never easy. However, between July 8 and July 16, I lost three friends in two separate accidents. It makes me question…
July 8 – During the afternoon in Cash, Arkansas while flying an AT-602, Tripp Everidge lost his life while making a turn. Tripp was a third generation ag pilot, 27 years old and had been flying ag for a decade. I knew well his grandfather, Ronnie “Daddy Rabbit” Everidge (deceased) and his father, Ron; all ag-pilots here in Georgia. Several years ago, AgAir Update featured the father and son team on the November 2013 cover with them flying their turbo Thrushes in formation.
Occasionally, Ron and Tripp would stop by the office to chit-chat, an inseparable pair. As a father that works with his son every day, I cannot begin imagine the void Ron is going through. This is not the first time in this business a father has buried his son, or vice versa, from an ag-flying accident. I can name several.
On Sunday morning, July 16, a P-51D Mustang and its pilot and passenger fatally crashed in Atchison, Kansas. The pilot was Vlando Lenoch with passenger Bethany Root, who was an ag-pilot. Bethany had been flying ag for about four years for Floyd McElwain in St. Joseph, Missouri. In 2014, Graham and I visited McElwain Sprayers to write a feature article on this beautiful, aspiring female ag-pilot (see AAU January 2015). Then, 32 years old, she had all the right qualities to be a successful ag-pilot; a good, positive attitude.
Floyd McElwain texted me Sunday afternoon to give me the bad news. I was getting dressed to attend Tripp’s funeral. He didn’t say who the pilot was or the type aircraft, only that a “stunt” pilot was giving her a ride when they crashed.
Later that day when the news of the P-51D crash appeared on the Internet, I learned the pilot was Vlando. The first time I met Vlando, he and Al Schiffer were flying a pair of P-51s to Lakeland, Florida for a P-51 owners gathering. They parked their aircraft at the Perry Airport and stayed overnight with Sandy and me. A couple of months later, Vlando stopped again at the Perry Airport unexpectedly. He phoned my office from the FBO, asking for me. When I answered the phone, he said, “This is Vlando. Remember me? I stopped for fuel here in Perry and wanted to know if you had time for a P-51 ride?”
Vlando Lenoch gave me my first P-51 ride. It was indescribable. Those who have been fortunate enough to experience such a flight, understand. I’ll alway remember that day, airport bums standing around the Mustang watching Vlando strap me into the rear seat. They all were green with envy, no doubt.
I don’t know what happened to Tripp, Bethany and Vlando those two days in July. We may never know for sure. Undoubtedly, there will be much speculation. Whatever the cause, we all lost three very talented pilots.
There are still several weeks left in the 2017 North American spraying season and ag-operations south of the Equator are not long before starting. For your family, for yourself (and maybe for me), take a deep breath and remember where you are and what you are doing when flying your aircraft.