Glider crash kills two top rated pilots
MINDEN – Two nationally renowned glider pilots with blue-ribbon flying resumes died Tuesday afternoon as their two-man glider fell apart in mid-air before plunging to the ground in Carson Valley.
Donald Engen, 75, director of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum, was reportedly a passenger in the two-seat Nimbus 4DM glider.
The motorized self-launching sail plane went down about 1:12 p.m. roughly five miles east of Minden-Tahoe Airport. The wreckage lay just off Powerline Road east of East Valley Road at the base of the Pine Nut Mountains.
The pilot apparently was Bill Ivans, 79, honorary vice president of the Soaring Society of American and the U.S. record holder in the 300 kilometer triangle course set in 1984 over the Flying M Ranch near Yerington.
Douglas County Sheriff Ron Pierini said the two bodies were preliminarily identified as Engen and Ivans, though confirmation through dental records may take up to a week.
“(Ivans) had been flying here for probably 30 years,” said Bill Stowers of High Country Soaring, based at the Minden-Tahoe Airport. “(Engen and Ivans) were very, very good friends of ours. The mood here is very somber because these guys were very well known. It’s going to be felt nationwide and worldwide. These were very important people in the aviation world.”
Engen assumed the top post at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in June 1996 after heading the Federal Aviation Administration for nearly four years under President Reagan. He also served two years as a member of the National Transportation Safety Board.
Ironically, representatives of both the NTSB and FAA headed to the remote Carson Valley site Tuesday afternoon to investigate the crash site. This was the second fatal glider accident out of Minden-Tahoe Airport involving a highly respected pilot in one month.
On June 13, Clem Bowman, 1997 U.S. soaring champion, died at the airport when a piece of his tail fell off and the plane dropped to the ground.
The Engen-Ivans crash was one of three glider incidents Tuesday near Minden-Tahoe Airport.
Another airborne glider that witnessed the crash flew over to investigate and was unable to return to the airport because it was too low. That plane made a controlled landing on an abandoned airstrip, Douglas County Sheriff’s Sgt. Lance Modispacher said.
A third glider, about two hours later, put down in a field when strong winds kept the craft from returning to the airport, Stower said.
There were no reported injuries in those two landings.
Thunderstorms powered through the East Valley Road area no more than an hour after the crash but at the time Ivans and Engen were aloft the weather was apparently mostly sunny with no wind,
“The weather at the time was good soaring weather,” Stowers said.
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SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – A pair of utility companies may cut off power during this weekend due to high winds forecast for the Lake Tahoe Basin.