Vlado Lenoch was about to take his vintage showplane home to Illinois, giving one last private show with Atchison’s airport manager Bethany Root aboard when the plane went down Sunday morning without radioing any warning of trouble.
Root was riding along as Lenoch recreated some of the stunt flying he had performed in the same P-51d Mustang the evening before in front of crowds at the annual Amelia Earhart Festival.
“All we know is that they were out to do some tricks before he was preparing to head home,” Atchison County Sheriff Jack Laurie said. “We don’t know of any communications … no indications of any problems.”
The plane crashed about 10:30 a.m. Sunday morning, less than 10 miles from Amelia Earhart Memorial Airport, in a field just northeast of Cummings. Lenoch, 64, from the Chicago suburb of Burr Ridge, and Root, 34, of Atchison, died.
Investigators with the Federal Aviation Administration were on site Monday, continuing an investigation headed by the National Transportation Safety Board that will prepare a preliminary report likely within a couple of weeks, but then take as much as a year or more to produce a final report.
One witness who saw the crash told investigators that the plane was flying just above the level of power lines, traveling from northwest to southeast. The last action the plane took was to pitch upward and then roll to the left before it crashed, said Peter Knudson, a spokesman with the NTSB.
But the investigators don’t know if the plane was under the pilot’s control at that point or if there were problems with the aircraft, he said.
Investigations focus on three areas, he said: the experience and fitness of the pilot, the maintenance and functioning of the plane and environmental conditions.
The weather was clear. Lenoch was flying a vintage craft for Chicago’s Dave Dacy Airshows. And he was a highly credentialed pilot who had been flying since he was 17.
The crowd that saw what would be Lenoch’s last performance Saturday evening raved about it on social media posts, and then expressed shock with the news of the crash the next day.
They had listened to Lenoch’s friendly voice crackling over the public address system as he narrated his stunts into a microphone in the plane.
“It was a neat interaction with the crowd,” said Ken Phelps, of Gardner, Kan., who videoed the performance. “It was a neat old airplane.”
His and the crowd’s favorite part, shouted in cheers, came as Lenoch took his plane on a low pass, roaring seemingly almost eye-level past the crowd.
Less than 24 hours later, Phelps said, he heard of a crash on the news and saw the accounts that Lenoch had crashed in the same plane.
Root had gone with him. She had become a vigorous fan and promoter of the Amelia Earhart Festival airshow in the three years she had spent in Atchison since coming from Indianapolis in pursuit of a flying career with McElwain Sprayers agricultural service airplane company in Wathena, Kan.
She’d been a pilot for about three years and friends on her Facebook page remembered her “passion being a pilot and love of flying.”
“Blue skies, tailwinds and peace,” one of her friends wrote.
Root, who has been managing the Amelia Earhart Memorial Airport for the past year with McElwain, shared in the thrill of classic and dynamic performance planes, said festival coordinator Jacque Pregont.
“Everyone’s still in shock,” she said. “We’re still trying to deal with what happened.”