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Copyright © 2013
by John Kremer

Hot Times, Cool Places

Celebrities Air Deaths: April

April 1, 1993: Winston Cup champion and NASCAR driver Alan Kulwicki (38) as well as three others were killed when the Hooters corporate Fairchild SA227-TT jet went down near Tri-City Airport at Bristol, Tennessee. Kulwicki had been enroute from a PR appearance in Knoxville to his next race in Bristol. The crash was caused by the pilot's failure to follow appropriate procedures when dealing with icing conditions. Kulwicki had been the 1992 NASCAR Winston Cup champion.

April 2, 1999: New Zealand boxer Michael Bell (33) died in a helicopter crash near Tuatapere, New Zealand.

April 3, 1961: Green Cross, a first-division Chilean soccer team, died in the crash of a Douglas DC-3 aircraft in the Las Lastimas Mountains near Llico, Chile. All 24 people aboard the plane were killed.

April 3, 1994: Walt Disney president Frank Wells (62), documentary filmmaker Beverly Johnson (46), and pilot Dave Walton (46) were killed when their helicopter crashed during a ski trip to the remote Ruby Mountains in Nevada. Another passenger, Paul Scannell, died nine days later from massive head injuries. Johnson's husband and partner Michael Hoover (50) was seriously injured but survived. Approximately 40 people have been killed in heli-skiing accidents since helicopter skiing caught on in 1975.

April 3, 1996: Commerce Secretary Ron Brown (55), Charles Meissner, assistant secretary of commerce, and 32 others died when their Air Force Boeing 737-T43 passenger jet crashed into a hillside during bad weather while trying to land at Dubrovnik, Croatia. Note: 5 other planes landed safely at that airport around the same time.

April 4, 1934: Captain Joaquin Garcia Morato, the best hunting pilot during the Spanish Civil War (1936-39), died in a careless airplane accident a few days after finishing the war.

April 4, 1991: Senator H. John Heinz III (53) of Pennsylvania and six others were killed when a Bell 412 SP helicopter collided with Heinz's Piper Aerostar plane over a schoolyard in Merion, Pennsylvania. All aboard the two aircraft plus two children playing outside the school were killed in the crash. The helicopter had been dispatched to check out a problem Heinz's plane was having with its landing gear. While moving for a closer look, the helicopter's blades hit the bottom of the plane, causing both aircraft to spin out of control and crash.

April 4, 1998: A single-engine Cessna 172 and a Cessna 525 Citation jet collided over Roswell, Georgia. Five people were killed in the collision, the pilot of the Cessna and a pilot and three passengers of the jet. The Cessna fell on a house but the residents were spared. The jet crashed about a mile away in a rural area. The Cessna 172 was piloted by a man who was inspecting power lines for Georgia Power Company. The Citation jet carried four lawyers from a top Atlanta law firm.

April 4, 2001: Colonel Ibrahim Shamsul-Din, the deputy defense minister of Sudan, and thirteen other high-ranking officers (a general, seven lieutenant generals, three brigadiers, a lieutenant colonel, a colonel, and a corporal) were killed when their plane crashed on taking off from an airport in the war-torn south. Sixteen people survived the crash, which was caused by bad weather.

April 5, 1991: While on business for NASA, astronaut Manley Carter Jr. was killed in the crash of an Atlantic Southeast Airlines Embraer EMB-120RT jet near Brunswick, Georgia. Also on board the plane was golfer Davis Love Sr. and John Tower (66), former Senator from Texas and head of the Tower Commission that studied the National Security Council's actions during the Iran-Contra Affair. Tower's daughter, Marian, and his entourage were also killed. 23 people were killed in the crash, which occurred when the plane's left propeller control unit malfunctioned.

April 6, 1994: A plane carrying Cyprien Ntaryamira and Juvenal Habyarimana, the presidents of Burundi and Rwanda respectively, was shot down as it neared the Rwandan capital of Kigali. This tragedy sparked months of killing as the Hutu and Tutsi tribes tried to kill each other off. Ironically, the presidents were just returning from a conference in Tanzania to discuss ways to dissolve the ethnic rivalries.

April 7, 1958: Nuclear research scientist Mark Muir Mills (40), deputy director of the Livermore Radiation Laboratory at the University of California, was killed in the crash of an H19 helicopter at Eniwetok in the Marshall Islands. The helicopter went down in shallow water, turned on its side with the main cabin door under water. Everyone escaped out the windows on the other side but someone opened a 20-man life raft in the main cabin. Mark was trapped inside and drowned. Attempts were made to find him in the dark cabin but no one could with all the different sections of the raft inflated. The helicopter went down in a down draft under full power. No problem was found with the helicopter. Awarded a special Presidential citation for his work, Mills had published two well-known papers, “Physics of Rockets” and “The Safety of Nuclear Reactors.”

April 9, 1970: United Auto Workers leader Walter Reuther (63), his wife, and four others were killed when their Gates Learjet plane broke through clouds, hit trees, and burst into flames while attempting to land at Pellston, Michigan.

April 10, 2010: Polish President Lech Kaczynski, his wife Maria, army chief of staff Gen. Franciszek Gagor, National Bank president Slawomir Skrzypek, deputy foreign minister Andrzej Kremer,  and 92 others died when the Tupolev Tu-154M presidential plane crashed while coming in for a landing at the North Smolensk military airport in western Russia. The plane apparently broke apart as it hit the tree tops in an attempt to land in heavy fog. Among other top Polish leaders who died in the crash were the navy chief commander, heads of the air and land forces, army chaplain, head of the National Security Office, civil rights commissioner, two presidential aides, three lawmakers, and Anna Walentynowicz (whose firing in August 1980 from the Lenin Shipyards in Gdansk sparked the worker's strike that eventually led to the founding of the Solidarity movement). The group had been on its way to attend events marking the 70th anniversary of the massacre in Katyn forest of thousands of Polish officers by Soviet secret police.

April 11, 1996: Jessica Dubroff, a 7-year-old pilot attempting to set a record for youngest to pilot a plane across the United States, died when her plane stalled (due to too much weight) and crashed shortly after taking off from the Cheyenne, Wyoming airport. Her father and the pilot-in-command were also killed. They had been flying into a thunderstorm at the time of the crash. Earlier in the week, in a London Times interview, she said, “This started off as a father-daughter adventure, and it's gotten wonderfully out of hand...I'm going to fly till I die.”

April 12, 1944: Polo player and aviator Tommy Hitchcock (44) died as he tested a fully fueled, bomb-laden P-51 fighter plane near Salisbury, England, during World War II. As he took the plane into a nose dive, he couldn't pull it out again and thus crashed. For more than 20 years, Hitchcock maintained polo's top rating of 10 goals. One of the first inductees of the Polo Hall of Fame, he was the Michael Jordan of polo at a time when polo was as popular as football or basketball. At 16, he had won both the U.S. Junior and Senior Polo Championships.

April 12, 1962: Ron Flockhart, Scottish race car driver, died in a plane crash near Melbourne, Australia, when his borrowed Mustang P-51 propeller-driven aircraft spun out of a cloud into the Dandenong Ranges near Melbourne. The crash was blamed on Flockhart's lack of experience with instrument flying as well as his little working knowledge of the borrowed plane.

April 12, 1997: Frank Pocher, CFO of ImmunoGen died in a plane crash.

April 12, 1998: Balloonist Alex Ritchie (52) died in a skydiving accident.

April 15, 1957: One of Mexico's most popular singers and actors, Pedro Infante, died in a plane crash in Merida Yucatan as he was returning to Mexico City in a carrier plane of a company where he was a stockholder. Since all commercial flights were sold out, he convinced the carrier crew to take him to Mexico City. On take off, one of the two engines on the plane failed, causing the plane to spiral down killing a family on the ground as well as the occupants of the plane.

April 16, 1978: On his way home from scouting movie locations up north, movie stunt pilot Frank Tallman III died when his Piper Aztec crashed near the top of Trabuco Canyon in a violent rainstorm in the Santa Ana Mountains. He had been en route from Santa Monica, California to Phoenix, Arizona at the time of the crash.

April 16, 2000: The flying missionary, Bishop Thomas Lobsinger (72) of Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, was killed as he flew his Cessna 172 to Dawson City to celebrate Mass. The cause of the accident was not determined.

April 18, 1943: Japanese admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, the navy's commander-in-chief and architect of the invasion of Pearl Harbor, was killed when his Mitsubishi G4M1 was shot down by US Air Force P-38s over Bougainville in the Pacific Ocean. The plane landed in a flaming wreck after being hit by machine-gun fire and crashing through jungle trees.

April 18, 1996: Nebraska backup quarterback Brook Berringer (22) and a friend were killed when his small plane crashed into an alfalfa field near Raymond, Nebraska. Berringer helped Nebraska win the 1994 and 1995 national titles and had expected to be selected in the NFL draft (which was to occur two days later). During 1994, he replaced injured starter Tommie Frazier for most of the regular season.

April 19, 1993: South Dakota Governor George Mickelson (52) and seven others were killed when the propeller hub of their state-owned Mitsubishi MU-2B-60 private plane fractured resulting in the loss of a propeller blade and damage to the engine, wing, and fuselage. Unable to maintain altitude, the pilot attempted to land but crashed into a silo near Zwingle, Iowa. The governor was returning from a lobbying effort in Ohio.

April 20, 1949: U.S. representative Robert Coffey (31) of Pennsylvania was killed in the crash of a private plane near Albuquerque, New Mexico.

April 21, 1918: The WWI flying ace Red Baron, Manfred von Richtofen, was killed in action during World War I. His Fokker Triplane was said to be shot down by Roy Brown of Canada near Morlancourt Ridge. In actuality, he was shot from the ground by an Australian trooper. The Red Baron had been responsible for 80 kills (destruction of enemy airplanes) in less than two years.

April 21, 1951: Hockey player Bill Barilko of the Toronto Maple Leafs was killed in a plane crash during a fishing trip shortly after scoring the winning goal for the Stanley Cup. His body was not found until 11 years later in 1962. The Tragically Hip wrote a song, “50 Mission Cup,” about the incident.

April 28, 1968: Six members of the Lamar Tech track team, died in a plane crash near Beaumont, Texas.

April 28, 1993: The entire Zambian national soccer team, officials, a journalist, and the plane's crew died when their Zambian Air Force plane crashed off the coast of Libreville, Gabon.

April 28, 2002: Alexander Lebed (52), a Russian general who played a key role in foiling the 1991 coup against Mikhail Gorbachev and ran for president against Boris Yeltsin five years later, died when his helicopter hit a high-voltage line and crashed in light fog. Seven of the 19 people aboard the helicopter died in the crash; the rest suffered broken spines, bones, or ruptured organs.

April 29, 1959: Joaquin Blume, Spain's European gymnastics champion, died in a plane crash near Madrid, Spain.

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