Two decades ago, Sid Galloway was in a hospital in Birmingham, Alabama, watching over his 3-year-old son Michael, who was scheduled to have heart surgery.
Unannounced, his friend Wayne Fisher arrived along with his wife, toting a toy dog with a Sharpie attached, a memento for visitors to sign and for Michael to keep.
Fisher’s arrival at the hospital is something Galloway has never forgotten, a bright spot in a dark period.
Wednesday, Galloway choked up as he recalled that moment and talked about Fisher, 68, one of two pilots killed Tuesday night when their twin-engine mosquito-spraying plane tumbled out of the sky just north of the Slidell airport.
“That’s just the kind of guy he was,” Galloway said.
Fisher loved flying, Galloway said.
Like Fisher, Donald Pechon, 59, was a veteran pilot with more than 20 years of experience when he was featured in a 2005 story in Inside Northside magazine.
Chuck Palmisano, director of the St. Tammany Parish Mosquito Abatement District, told WWL-TV that both were exceptional and experienced pilots who had flown for the agency for years.
Fisher also was a reserve deputy for the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Office and at times flew that agency’s helicopter. Sheriff Jack Strain released a statement Wednesday lamenting his death.
“Wayne’s passion for flying was evident in everything he did,” Strain said. “We will miss him terribly.”
St. Tammany Parish President Pat Brister also offered condolences, promising to hold the pilots’ families “in our thoughts and prayers” and to remember “the service they offered to the community.”
Details are still sketchy on what happened to the Beech 65 aircraft as it came in for a landing just after 9 p.m. Tuesday. The two pilots had been spraying for mosquitoes, as they frequently did for the Mosquito Abatement District, which has an office and a hangar at the airport.
Another pilot, flying nearby, saw the plane have “some type of engine trouble” before rolling over, striking some power lines and crashing into a wooded area, according to Slidell Police Chief Randy Smith. The plane burst into flames.
Emergency workers were able to reach the scene only by using ATVs and off-road vehicles. Both men were dead when they arrived.
Investigators from the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board were expected to arrive at the crash site Wednesday to sift through the debris, even as crews worked to clear a path to the site so the bodies could be recovered.
A spokesman for the NTSB said a preliminary report would be produced within five to 10 days but that it would contain no analysis or explanation of the cause of the accident. A fuller report would come later, he said.
Planes like the one that crashed Tuesday night do not normally have flight data recorders or cockpit voice recorders, the “black boxes” that provide investigators in larger crashes with information about what exactly was going on in the plane before impact, the NTSB’s Keith Holloway said.
Follow Faimon A. Roberts III on Twitter, @faimon.