Two die as acrobatic plane crashes
By Meg Olson
A plane enroute from Point Roberts to Everett in early June 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, said Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) representative Mike Fergus. On June 10, Granley, flying a YAK 55 and other family and friends in a YAK18 were returning with Warren and Zuyev from a visit to Granleys son Bob in Point Roberts where the previous afternoon they had treated the community to an impromptu air show.
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 life to keep the plane flying. The plane stalled repeatedly until it hit the ground. Thats 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 coroners office.
The Whatcom County Sheriffs 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 investigation is ongoing. My big question right now is why couldnt 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.
In the weeks since the crash, Hogenson has examined the airframe and fuselage. Everything appeared to be normal before impact, he said. He added that the instrument panel, all in Russian, had been largely destroyed in the crash. Hogenson is now awaiting detailed toxicological analyses from NTSB labs and examining the history and logs of the aircraft. Well continue looking, he said.
Its 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, its hard to fathom a mistake in the air cost them their lives.
Warren, a certified flight instructor with a commercial pilots license, had spent almost 15 of his 50 years flying. He worked with the Granley family acrobatic 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.
Mikes an extremely experienced pilot. Hes got thousands of hours of air time. We just dont know what happened and maybe we never will, Granley said.
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, theres 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..