Noted aviators killed in crash

Published on Thu, Jun 14, 2001 by Meg Olson

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Noted aviators killed in crash

By Meg Olson

A plane flying from Point Roberts to Everett last Sunday crashed into a field near Point Whitehorn, killing both men in the small two-seater, Jerry “Mike” Warren of Silverdale, Washington and Alexander Zuyev of Hollandale, Florida.

One of a group of three aircraft, the Russian-built Yakovlev-52, known as a YAK52, was owned by air show veteran and stunt pilot Neil “Bud” Granley of Bellevue, according to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) representative Mike Fergus. Granley, flying a YAK55 and other family and friends in a YAK18 were returning with Warren and Zuyev from a visit to Granley’s son Bob in Point Roberts where they had treated the community to an impromptu air showon Saturday afternoon.

The propeller-driven YAK52 has controls in both front and back seats. At takeoff, Bob Granley said, Warren was in the front seat and in control of the aircraft. The three planes had arranged to rendezvous over Cherry Point after takeoff and, as the YAK52 turned back to rejoin the group, it had an aerodynamic stall, airflow over the wing reduced to the point that there was no longer sufficient lift to keep the plane flying. “The plane stalled repeatedly until it hit the ground. That’s what we know. The rest is speculation,” Granley said. In six to eight seconds, the airplane plunged 1,200 feet to the ground. Both men died from the trauma of the crash, according to the county coroner’s office.

The Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office (WCSO) responded to the call shortly after noon on Sunday to the crash site less than 100 feet from the gate of the BP Cherry Point Refinery. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and FAA inspectors arrived soon after and interviewed witnesses on the ground and from the other planes, who had landed in Bellingham and driven to the site.

“Witnesses indicate there did not appear to be a problem with the aircraft engine,” said NTSB representative Dennis Hogenson. “There did not appear to be a problem with the airframe. Weather does not appear to be a factor.” The WCSO reported that the autopsy found no medical conditions that could be responsible for the crash. Final results are pending toxicology tests.

Hogenson said the NTSB is continuing to look for a cause and will examine the wreckage further this week. “My big question right now is why couldn’t they recover,” he said. Designed as an acrobatic trainer, the YAK52 is built to power out of an aerodynamic stall. Bob Granley, with years of experience flying the YAK52, said there should have been ample opportunity to right the aircraft.

“It’s not fair to make that jump,” said Hogenson when asked if pilot error was a possible cause for the crash. Given the two victims’ backgrounds, it’s hard to fathom a mistake in the air cost them their lives.

Warren, 50, a certified flight instructor with a commercial pilot’s license, had spent almost 15 years flying. He worked with the Granley family acrobatic flying team as a mechanic and flew the small, acrobatic YAKs from airshow to airshow. He attracted media attention in 1998 when a gust of wind blew his light plane into power lines at Boeing Field in Seattle. Warren hung upside down for four hours before being rescued by firefighters.

“Mike’s an extremely experienced pilot. He’s got thousands of hours of air time. We just don’t know what happened and maybe we never will,” Granley said. “The setup of the aircraft when we looked at it doesn’t suggest anything abnormal.”

Zuyev, 39, was a decorated Russian fighter pilot who defected from the Soviet Union in May 1989, taking a MiG-29 from his base in Georgia and flying to Turkey with other fighters in pursuit. In years since, he has briefed and taught U.S. pilots and military officials and written a book about his 11 years in the Soviet air force and his defection. In his 1993 book “Fulcrum,” Zuyev repeated the advice of his flying instructor which helped pilot him through the maze of close calls during his nerve-jarring flight from the Soviet Union: “When a system fails, there’s always a reason. A good pilot does not panic.”

Granley said he hopes his friends are remembered for their lives rather than the freak crash that ended them. “We lost two really good people. Two really good pilots. It was catastrophic.”

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