Fairbanks, AK Midair Plane Collision, Jul 1993


Fairbanks (AP) - Air safety experts continued a probe Saturday
into a fiery midair crash that killed four people over a military ordnance field in Fairbanks.
Joette Storm, a spokeswoman for the Federal Aviation Administration in Anchorage, said Saturday that agency inspectors and an official from the National Transportation Safety Board were reviewing the crash.
Inspectors working parallel tracks of the investigation will study action by the pilot and Fairbanks tower, among other things, she said.
The accident Thursday killed RALPH
"JAMES" STUHR, 52, and his 16-year-old daughter, RACHEL LYNN STUHR, both of North Pole, and U.S. Army 1st Lt. LEE TOMLINSON, 29, and DON SPARKS, 48, both of Fairbanks.
Storm said information was still being assembled Saturday. "It's way too early to know" the accident's cause, she said.
Among concerns was safety of crews trying to reach the wreckage, which is on Fort Wainwright land. Storm said the tract contained unexploded weapons shells that had to be deactivated first.
The marshy site is about five miles southeast of Fairbanks International Airport. Both aircraft were float planes.
SPARKS, owner of Sparks Aviation, and TOMLINSON, a former student and friend, were returning from a fishing trip, friends told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. The STUHRS had taken off for a sightseeing trip along the Tanana River.
"It can happen to anybody," said flight instructor Bill Griffin, who is a colleague of SPARKS.
Investigators say one of the pilots sought permission to land in an airport pond and moments later radioed a distress call, saying there had been a collision.
Griffin said the 48-year-old instructor was an excellent pilot and teacher and was one of two FAA-
certified flight examiners in Fairbanks.
After finishing course work and flying the mandatory hours, would-be pilots had to successfully complete a "check ride" with SPARKS or Griffin to receive a pilot's license.
"We're very sad here," said Griffin of the atmosphere at the airport's cast ramp. "It's just as if a member of our family was killed."
SPARKS' business partner, Francie Thomas, said SPARKS was "extremely, extremely safety-conscious."
"Everybody knew and respected his name," she said.
SPARKS was well known for his roles in Fairbanks Light Opera Theatre productions. A memorial service at a Fairbanks airport hangar was scheduled Monday.
TOMLINSON, a member of Fort Wainwright's 5th Battalion, 9th Infantry, graduated from the University of Mississippi in 1989 and came to the post in 1990.
Lt. Troy Fodness, a friend and co-worker, said TOMLINSON received his pilot's license about three months ago. "I talked to him yesterday afternoon and they were going fishing," Fodness said Friday.
"He was the kind of person who could be your friend in about five minutes."
JIM STUHR and his daughter took off from the float pond in front of their North Pole home at about 9:28 p.m. Thursday, about 10 minutes before the crash, said family friend Sharon Allen.
STUHR'S wife, Jackie, waved goodbye from their deck as the pair took off into the clear evening sky. Allen said RACHEL, a student at North Pole High School, asked her father to take her for a ridge along the Tanana River.
RACHEL STUHR, nicknamed "Bird" by her father, was the one of the couple's three daughters most fond
of flying, Allen said.
"I've just never known a better man and father and husband," Allen said.

Daily Sitka Sentinel Alaska 1993-07-12