Midair Splits Bonanza In Two

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A twin-engine 1978 Piper PA-44-180 Seminole being flown Tuesday through maneuvers near Aurora State Airport, Oregon, collided with a flying Beech Bonanza V35, essentially cutting the single in half, sending its pieces to the ground and killing its pilot. The midair took place at about 4 p.m., in clear weather. The twin lost a section of its nose and was put down, safely, in a field. Its occupants, an instructor and student, walked away uninjured. The Beechcraft was piloted by retired Oregon State Police sergeant Stephen L. Watson. Debris from his aircraft came down over a one and one-half square-mile area, with the tail landing in a tree about a mile from the rest of the aircraft. Early reports appear to differ in their description of the initial collision.

A spokesman for the local Sheriff's office told Oregon Live that the Seminole had been making a series of rapid ascents and descents as part of training maneuvers, prior to coming down on the Bonanza. Upon impact, the Bonanza "was literally cut in two," according to the spokesman. But the NTSB's lead investigator on the case told the Seattle Times that witnesses said the two aircraft had been flying level at the time of impact. Investigators were not immediately aware if the pilots of the accident aircraft had been in radio contact with each other or air traffic controllers at the time of the collision. The surviving pilots have been interviewed and the investigation could last at least one year.