By: KXAN Staff
FREDERICKSBURG, Texas (KXAN) — The pilot who died in a crash that destroyed a vintage plane and also killed his passenger has been identified.
73-year-old Cowden Ward and his passenger, who was a WWII B-17 pilot, died after the plane crashed in the parking lot of a Fredericksburg apartment complex Saturday afternoon. The passenger’s name has not been released.
Pieces of the plane could be seen lying on the ground at the crash site outside the Friendship Place Apartments on South Creek Street.
“I just watched it, and I said ‘Something’s very, very wrong,'” said Robin Walper, who witnessed the crash. “The right wing tipped further to the right, and it just started teetering over and went straight down.”
Walper told KXAN she’s flown in vintage airplanes before.
“Something wasn’t right,” Walper said as she recalled what she heard. “When I heard it and got out there and saw that it was flying too low, right after the right wing tipped to the right, I heard nothing, as if there was no engine, and then down, and then there was the explosion.”
“They were huge in WWII,” she said. “They were escorts of the bombers, and they also did their own recon work, and sometimes groundwork, checking things out. But they were absolutely required in WWII. They were a huge, huge factor,” said Wapler, who was an aerial photographer and has a model of the P-51.
The FAA gave KXAN the plane’s tail number, which is N4132A, and according to its website it is registered to a corporation called Pea Hochso LLC, a company out of Burnet.
KXAN’s sister station, KLBK in Lubbock, previously interviewed Ward about his P-51 “Pecos Bill” vintage aircraft and his dedication to taking war veterans on free, honorary flights. In the story, video from the cockpit shows the tail number of Pecos Bill, which matches the tail number of the plane in the crash.
Cowden Ward flew veterans through an organization called Freedom Flyers.
Freedom Flyers gave the following statement to KXAN:
We are devastated by the loss of our friend. At this time we can not share information about the passenger or the cause of the accident….As his friends and as we are all a part of Freedom Flyers, we would all like to share that Cowden was an excellent pilot who loved flying his plane and he loved sharing that experience with our nation’s veterans more than anything else. He honored over 130 veterans with flights in the P51 completely free of charge. He was truly an amazing man and the aviation world is mourning his loss. We would also like the family and friends of the Veteran who took this final flight with Cowden to know our thoughts and prayers are with them and we will never forget the great man who flew with Cowden on his final flight.”
Freedom Flyers said Ward was part of the International Council of Air Shows, and would always make a point to honor at least one or two veterans with flights at the shows.
Kevin Lacey, a friend of Ward’s and a fellow aviator, said he was heartbroken to hear the news. Lacey had flown with Ward in the P51 before and Ward had helped educate the young aviation students Lacey works with.
Lacey explained that Ward fell in love with the P51 the moment he saw it and that Ward delighted in sharing that plane with WWII veterans.
“There is nothing like the feeling of that Merlin engine pulling down the runway, it is just straight and true, it is the ultimate airplane,” Lacey said.
Lacey remembered his friend as selfless and extremely passionate about working with veterans. The two last spoke in person at an airshow a few weeks ago. Lacey recalled Ward saying that he had given more than 150 flights to WWII veterans.
“Anywhere, anytime you would see him show up in his airplane to give a vet a ride, just because that’s what he felt like his goal in life was, to thank them,” Lacey said.
Lacey said he was stunned to hear about the crash, but he doesn’t want to make any assumptions about what happened. He said there is a lot Ward’s loved ones can’t know for sure right now. They will wait for the NTSB report in hopes of answers about his death.
“What I do know is he was doing what he loved,” Lacey said.
The Associated Press reported that the director of the National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg confirmed the plane had been performing in a flyover as part of a living history show for the museum. The director told the AP that the plane was returning to the Gillespie County Airport at that time.
The National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg was hosting a Pacific Combat Program Saturday that started at 2 p.m., according to an event posted on its Facebook page.
The NTSB will release a preliminary crash report within a week.It says the crash scene is about 200 feet in diameter. Investigators will be looking into the plane, the pilot’s history, history of the aircraft, maintenance records and weather at the time of crash.
NTSB also noted that no one has reported to them that the plane hit anything on the way down or that any “mayday” calls were made.
The wreckage should be removed from the crash site sometime Monday.