Herbert Lewis Siegel called his airplane Little Ducky.
Flying the light two-seater was one of the loves of his active and adventurous life, friends say.
But on Tuesday afternoon, with his good friend Brian Clark Decker aboard, the plane went down in rural Linn County, Kan., killing both men.
Siegel, 67, of the Stilwell community in Overland Park, was a dentist. Decker, 57, of Independence, owned a construction company.
The plane took off about 3:50 p.m. Tuesday from a private grass strip. It stayed airborne for about 50 feet and then drifted west, struck tree tops and crashed into woods near the 12300 block of South Ross Lane, about 2 miles northwest of Pleasanton, Kan., according to a preliminary crash report from the Kansas Highway Patrol.
Investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the crash. An agency spokesman said an initial report could be available in about 10 days.
A spokeswoman for the Federal Aviation Administration said Wednesday that the investigation would look into matters including the licensing of the pilot, the aircraft’s construction and whether air traffic rules were followed.
“Everything we have is so preliminary and subject to change that we really don’t have any facts to report yet,” spokeswoman Elizabeth Cory said Wednesday.
The plane, a 2006 Zodiac CH 601 XL, was built from a kit manufactured by the Zenith Aircraft Co. of Mexico, Mo.
Records from the FAA show no previous incidents or accidents involving Siegel’s plane.
But according to the FAA, that model of aircraft was involved in six “in-flight structural breakup accidents” in the United States between February 2006 and November 2009, and several other accidents were reported in other countries.
That prompted the FAA and Zenith Aircraft to notify owners of potential safety problems and the need for modifications, according to an FAA study published in 2010.
Siegel had talked recently about taking the craft in for some type of service, said Patti Gnau, a friend of Decker and Siegel who had flown in Little Ducky. She did not know what type of service.
Siegel was meticulous about maintaining the aircraft and went through a thorough checklist every time he prepared to fly, Gnau said.
“He was a man of great detail,” she said. “He never left a stone unturned.”
The men were friends through the venerable Mission Valley Hunt Club, a group of equestrians and fox-hunting enthusiasts founded in 1927.
“They loved the sport of fox hunting,” said Gnau, the club secretary. “We’re all pretty much in shock.”
The club went ahead with a previously scheduled hunt Wednesday morning but rode in honor of Siegel and Decker, said club president Nick Badgerow.
“They were both valuable members who will be sorely missed,” Badgerow said.
Gnau described the men as compassionate, intelligent and generous.
“They put the gentle in gentlemen,” she said.
She said Siegel felt an affinity for Peter Pan, the boy who never grew up.
Whether flying, sailing, riding motorcycles or galloping on horseback across the Kansas prairie behind a pack of baying foxhounds, “he loved to play,” Gnau said.
She described Decker as a “meticulous craftsman” who recently built a display case to hold some riding accoutrements of a longtime club member.
“They were some of the most generous people I’ve ever known,” she said.
Jim Hoffman, senior pastor at St. John’s United Methodist Church in Kansas City, met Decker about 12 years ago when Hoffman was an associate pastor at a church in Lee’s Summit.
He said Decker was a fun-loving and giving person who would do anything to help others.
“He was one of those shirt-off-his-back kind of fellows,” Hoffman said.
Rabbi Mark H. Levin of Congregation Beth Torah in Overland Park, where Siegel worshiped, described him as a “very lovely, charitable, good man.”
“Whenever I had someone who couldn’t afford dental care who needed something, especially something that was complicated, I sent them out to him and he took care of them,” Levin said.
Levin said he and Siegel often spoke about current events and world affairs.
“He was an easy man to get along with. He believed in prayer,” Levin said. “He was very well liked. Everyone at worship is going to miss him.”
Bonna Yost, office administrator for Siegel’s dental practice for the past 15 years, said he was more than a boss.
“He was young at heart,” she said. “He liked to have fun. He never met strangers.”
Patients from his previous office in Gladstone would still make the long drive to Stilwell to see him, she said.
At one time, Yost said, Siegel operated offices in Gladstone and Stilwell. The office in Stilwell became the primary office about seven years ago, she said. Siegel had moved to Stilwell and had plans to become semiretired.
“It is difficult; it hurts,” Yost said Wednesday. “It is a very small office here and after 15 years, it’s not an employee-boss relationship.”
About 30 members of the club took part in Wednesday’s hunt, which ended with a prayer and a huntsman blowing “Gone Away,” the mournful, traditional end-of-hunt tune on his horn.
“We gathered to celebrate what they did to make the world a better place,” Gnau said. “They both died in good company.”
The Star’s Robert A. Cronkleton contributed to this report.