An aerobatic pilot who had performed at the Amelia Earhart festival and the general manager of the Amelia Earhart Airport are both dead after a plane crash in Atchison occurred the day following the festival. The pilot and sole passenger were in a World War II-era plane and had been in the air for less than half an hour when the crash happened, highlighting the risks that passengers in small planes sometimes face.
Cause of P-51 Plane Crash Unknown
Few details are known about the circumstances surrounding the plane crash, but a release from the Atchison County Sheriff’s Office indicates that 64-year-old Vlado Lenoch departed in his P-51 Mustang plane from Amelia Earhart Airport in Atchison, Kansas on Sunday, July 16, 2017, with one passenger aboard: 34-year-old Bethany Root, the airport manager.
The vintage aircraft took off at approximately 10:00 a.m. and was only in the air for about 15 minutes before it crashed at approximately 10:15 a.m. by 234th and Ness Road in Atchison County. The Atchison County Sheriff’s Office was notified of the crash at 10:18 a.m. and responded to the scene with the assistance of the Kansas Highway Patrol and Emergency Medical Services and Rescue. The accident was witnessed by neighbors adjacent to the crash site, who called 9-1-1 after the plane went down. No residents were harmed in the crash, but both Lenoch and Root were killed.
Federal Aviation Administration Officials were dispatched to the site on Sunday and were expected to arrive on Monday morning.
The resulting debris field from the crash was large, though contained to one area. Although no cause has been listed for the Atchison plane crash, early responders to the scene believe it happened at high speed.
“It was a high-speed impact crash,” a law enforcement officer at the scene said in an interview with News-Press Now.com. “I can’t speculate. It appears the plane was flying northwest when it crashed.”
Witnesses saw the plane doing stunt-like maneuvers prior to the accident, according to Atchison County Sheriff Jack Laurie.
Plane crash causes can take a year or more for investigators to determine and release a report on.
Plane was a Fighter Aircraft from World War II
Lenoch and Root were flying in Lenoch’s P-51 Mustang, a World War II-era plane with a sole propeller. Early reporting indicates that Lenoch owned the historic plane.
The P-51 Mustang was made by North American Aviation and was used as a long-range single-seat fighter plane in World War II. The British Purchasing Commission issued the specifications for the plane and it was designed and built in just 117 days. It was desirable for its affordability, speed, and durability.
“Baby Duck” markings, which Lenoch’s plane was believed to have, are based on the P-51 Mustang of Captain Herbert G. Kolb during World War II. Captain Kolb was credited with 14.5 ground kills during the war, five of which were in the original “Baby Duck,” which did not survive the war.
Crash Came Only One Day After Annual Festival
Officials say that Lenoch had flown the plane in the Amelia Earhart Festival the evening before the Atchison plane crash. The festival, which is held every year, celebrates Amelia Earhart, Atchison’s most famous resident, who disappeared during an attempt to fly around the world, and who was the first solo female pilot to cross the Atlantic Ocean.
Lenoch was one of two aerobatic pilots registered to perform in the Festival and attendees recall him flying over the river.
Pilot Had Long Background in Aviation
A bio for Lenoch indicates that he had been flying for 47 years, first learning to pilot an aircraft at only 17 years old. He went on to get his aeronautical engineering degree from Purdue University and then a master’s degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Lenoch worked at Boeing Commercial Airplane Company as a 747 instructor after college and had been flying a Citation jet for a privately-owned company in his home state of Illinois in recent years.
He became a director in the FAST Fighter Formation Program in 1990 and an aerobatic competency evaluator in 1995. He kept both positions until his death.
Lenoch lived in Burr Ridge, Illinois, and was married and had three children. He was known as a vastly talented airshow pilot.
Passenger One of Few Female Crop Dusters in the Country
Root, who was the only passenger in the plane at the time of the crash, had a widely-known love of flying. She was one of only three women in the entire United States who worked as a crop duster. She had worked as a special education teacher and had run a custom motorcycle shop before she became a pilot. Following that, she worked with McElwain crop dusters.
Root had spent the last four years working as a crop duster and had recently taken the job of general manager of the Amelia Earhart Airport near Atchison.
The purpose of Root and Lenoch’s fated flight is not known, but those who knew Root say she died doing what she loved most.
Two Other Incidents Involving the P-51 Mustang This Month
The Atchison crash was one of three incidents involving the historic P-51 Mustang in the month of July. Both other incidents occurred at the Flying Legends Airshow in Duxford, England.
One pilot had to recover his P-51 Mustang after the canopy disintegrated and another had to make an emergency landing in a field. Witnesses reported hearing a “loud bang” before the aircraft crashed and the plane sustained extensive damage. The pilot was uninjured.