AL AIN // Distinguished pilots were among those paying tribute yesterday after four American aviators were killed when their seaplane crashed in Al Ain on Sunday.
Chuck Kimes, a former American Airlines captain from the tiny town of Zephyr Cove in Nevada, was killed along with three colleagues when their McKinnon G21G turboprop plane went down shortly after take-off at Al Ain International Airport.
Landon Studer and Joshua Hucklebridge, who were high school friends from Texas, and Tyler Orsow, a 25-year-old pilot and instructor, were also killed. The four had been embarking on an adventure in the rare 1940s-era seaplane that would have taken them to Riyadh, Morocco and South America, before landing in Texas next week.
In the wake of the accident, friends and colleagues fondly remembered the four, posting messages of tribute on social network sites.
Mr Kimes’s friend and fellow seaplane pilot Jason Baker said Mr Kimes was “always there to listen to newcomers and other pilots”.
“When someone of his calibre is lost to tragedy, our whole community is shaken,” said Mr Baker, the owner and administrator of seaplaneforum.com, a network of seaplane pilots and experts.
“We come to realise that we can replace aeroplanes, but we will not be able to fill the empty space left behind by those who flew them.
“He was a great person and we will miss his guidance, wisdom and friendship on the forum, but moreover within our industry.”
Details of the accident were still unclear last night. The McKinnon G21G turboprop plane, owned by Mr Studer’s company Triple S Aviation, veered off course shortly after take-off from Al Ain International Airport and crashed on the taxiway before catching fire, according to initial reports from the General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA).
The plane was destroyed by the impact and fire, the GCAA said.
On social networking sites and message boards, friends and family posted memories and thoughts in tribute to the four lives lost.
JT Ulyatt, a pilot in the US Marine Corps who went to school with Mr Orsow in the small gold mining town of Angels Camp in California, posted a message to his friend on Facebook. “You were a great friend to many,” he wrote. “I am sorry your life was cut short. You will forever be on my wing. I will always remember our times. It’s hard not to be sad.”
On Mr Baker’s blog, fellow American Airlines captain Bob Johnson recounted a recent trip to Lake Tahoe, California, which was the home of Mr Kimes and his wife, Andrea. “We, I, are blessed to have known Chuck,” Mr Johnson wrote.
“Chuck would want us to remember lots, mostly his love of flying, the mountains and Andrea.”
On Monday, Mr Hucklebridge’s sister, Christi Vitela, posted a message along with a photo of her brother and his girlfriend, Ruby Garcia, on her blog.
“Needless to say, I will take some time to process. Thanks to all, for your encouragement and positive thoughts ... take the time to hold the ones you love close and tell them how much you love them,” Mrs Vitela wrote.
A US Embassy spokesman said US and Emirati authorities would be working together to determine the cause of the crash.