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Copyright © 2013
by John Kremer

Hot Times, Cool Places

Celebrities Air Deaths: February

February 1, 1966: Nicholas Piantanida died during his descent after setting a new balloon flight record.

February 1, 2003: All seven astronauts were killed with the space shuttle Columbia broke apart as it re-entered the earth's atmosphere. The seven astronauts were Col. Rick D. Husband (45); Dr. Laurel Salton Clark (41); Col. Ilan Ramon (48), the first Israeli in space; Dr. Kalpana Chawla (41), the first India-born woman in space; Capt. David M. Brown (46); Lt. Col. Michael P. Anderson (43); and Cmdr. William C. McCool (41).

February 3, 1959: The Day The Music Died. Rock Hall of Famers Buddy Holly (22), the Big Bopper (J.P. Richardson) (29), and Ritchie Valens (17) as well as the pilot Roger Peterson died when their Beechcraft Bonanza plane crashed just outside Clear Lake, Iowa, during a stormy winter night. Holly was famous for many hits including “Peggy Sue.” The Big Bopper had one big hit, “Chantilly Lace.” And Valens was best known for his hit, “La Bamba.”

February 3, 2004: Saxophonist Cornelius Bumpus (58), who played for the Doobie Brothers and Steely Dan, died of a heart attack during an airplane flight too California.

February 6, 1958: Eight members of the Manchester United soccer team were among 23 people (out of 44 aboard) who were killed when a British European Airways Airspeed Ambassador airliner crashed while taking off from the Munich, Germany airport during a snowstorm. A German inquiry laid the blame on ice accumulation on the wings, while an English inquiry laid the blame on drag due to slush on the runway.

February 8, 2000: Popular radio host Bob Collins of WGN in Chicago died when two small aircraft collided over Zion, Illinois. Collins' plane, a two-seat Zlin aerobatic plane, crashed into the roof of the Midwestern Regional Medical Center blowing out windows in the top floor and injuring two people while the other plane, a four-seat Cessna 172, cracked down on a nearby street. Collins and his passenger as well as the student pilot in the other plane were killed in the crash.

February 11, 1985: Ben Abruzzo, a crew member on the Double Eagle II, the first balloon to cross the Atlantic Ocean nonstop, was killed along with several passengers when his twin-engine plane crashed shortly after taking off from the Albuquerque, New Mexico airport. An investigation showed that the probable cause of the crash was an external luggage compartment door which had been left open. The best idea from aircraft data was that he had pulled back on the gas of the closest prop to the door and then inadvertently feathered the wrong prop, thus rendering both engines inoperative. Before his death, Abruzzo was also a member of the first team to fly a balloon nonstop across the Pacific Ocean.

February 12, 2009: Beverly Eckert (57), widow of business executive Sean Rooney (who died on 9/11 while working at the World Trade Center), died along with 49 others when Continental flight 3407 crashed into a house in Clarence Center, New York.

February 13, 1964: Ken Hubbs (23), Chicago Cubs 2nd baseman and 1962 Rookie of the Year, was killed in an airplane crash near Provo, Utah.

February 14, 1975: U.S. representative Jerry Pettis (59) of California died in a private plane crash near Banning, California.

February 14, 1998: Minor Judson "Buddy" Ward, former president of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, died when his single-engine Piper struck power lines and crashed in a grapefruit grove west of St. Lucie, Florida.

February 14, 2000: Former Indy car driver and CART team owner Tony Lee Bettenhausen Jr. (48), youngest son of a famous auto racing family, his wife Shirley, and two associates died in a private plane crash on a Kentucky farm 30 miles from Lexington. The likely cause of the accident was ice on the wings and the inexperience of the pilot. The plane plunged thousands of feet, crashed, and burned.

February 15, 1918: Dancer Vernon Castle (30) died is a plane accident in Fort Worth, Texas.

February 15, 1961: The entire U.S. Olympic figure skating team of 18 died when a Belgian Sabena Boeing 707 crashed near Brussels, Belgium. 72 passengers were killed as well as a farmer on the ground. Among the Olympians killed were figure skaters Dona Lee, William Hickox, Laurie Hickox, Laurence Richon Owen, Maribel Vinson Owen, Maribel Y. Owen, Dudly Richards, Diane Carol Sherbloom, and Stephanie Westerfield.

February 20, 2003: Pakistan's air force commander, Air Chief Marshal Mushaf Ali (55), his wife and four top officers were killed when an air force F-27 twin turboprop Fokker plane crashed in foggy weather in mountains near Kohat, Pakistan (near Pakistan's northwest border with Afghanistan), killing all 17 aboard. It was later rumored that Ali was an arms supplier and protector of Osama Bin Laden and the al-Qaeda network.

February 21, 1941: Sir Frederick Banting (49), co-discoverer of insulin, died of internal injuries and exposure after his transAtlantic flight from Labrador crashed. The Lockheed Hudson had developed engine trouble due to a faulty temperature gauge. Several others died in the accident.

February 22, 1943: Novelist Ben Robertson was killed and singer-actress Jane Froman injured when their Pan Am Boeing 314 flying boat crashed while attempting to land at Lisbon, Portugal. Froman's leg was so severely broken that doctors wanted to amputate it. She never walked right again after the accident. During the flight a woman changed seats with her and that woman was killed.

February 24, 1989: Nine passengers were sucked out of the back of a United Airlines Boeing 747 and fell to their deaths in the Pacific Ocean when a 40 foot hole blew open in the fuselage while the plane was flying 100 miles south of Hawaii (en route to New Zealand). 27 other passengers were injured in the accident resulting from a cargo door separation. Amazingly, the pilot was able to land the plane despite the aerodynamically impared fuselage. Months after the incident, passengers, crew and the captain started talking about a strange occurrence. Apparently they all felt the presence of angels who helped to hold the plane in the air. Some describe looking out the window and seeing a hand holding up the wing. [While this incident doesn't really fit under celebrities, it was interesting enough to include here because of the reported presence of angels.]

February 24, 2003: Juma Mohammed Mohammedi, Afghanistan's minister of mines and industry; Sun Changshen of the China Metallurgical Construction Company; four other Afghan officials, and the two-member crew were killed when their Cessna 402 plane crashed in the Arabian Sea shortly after taking off from the Karachi, Pakistan airport.

February 25, 1960: Nineteen members of the US Navy Band were killed when the plane the were in collided in mid-air with a Brazilian airliner in dense fog near Rio de Janeiro in Brazil.

February 26, 2004: Macedonia president Boris Trajkovski was killed in a plane crash over Bosnia.

February 27, 1941: U.S. representative William Byron of Maryland was killed in a private plane crash near Jonesboro, Georgia.

February 28, 1966: Two astronauts, Charles Bassett II (35) and Elliot See, Jr. (39), died when their T-38 jet crashed on taking off from Duluth International Airport in Minnesota. They had loaded the cockpit with gifts from family members they had visited in Duluth. The fits made it difficult to rotate the control stick aft when they needed to in order to avoid veering off the runway and crashing.

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