Man dies after aircraft crashes during test flight

Rescue crews on scene of a deadly aircraft crash in Lowell. (Courtesy Don Anderson/Aug. 24, 2014)

VERGENNES TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — A man died Sunday after crashing a single-engine ultralight aircraft during a test flight at the Lowell City Airport.

The crash happened around 11:30 a.m. at the airport located at 730 Lincoln Lake Avenue, about a mile north from the city of Lowell. Bryan Bowker, 67, of Edgewood, New Mexico, had come to the area to test the aircraft before he purchased it.

“He told the seller that he had a lot of experience in airplanes like this, not this particular model,” Lowell City Airport Manager Jim Sowle said.

Bowker’s first takeoff was successful, but the second time he took off, something went wrong.

“All of a sudden, the airplane veered to the right,” Sowle said. “God knows what happened at that time.”

The aircraft crashed about 350 feet from the runway, according to the Kent County Sheriff’s Department. Bowker was pronounced dead at the scene.

An ultralight aircraft crashed at the Lowell City Airport, killing its pilot. (Aug. 24, 2014)
(An ultralight aircraft crashed at the Lowell City Airport, killing its pilot. Aug. 24, 2014)

It was initially reported that Bowker’s wife was watching from the ground when he crashed, but the airport manager said that’s not accurate and that she was called afterward. Bowker’s family in New Mexico has been notified.

Earlier this month, 45-year-old Craig Ewing died after his small aircraft crashed near South Haven.

But Sowle said ultralight aircraft crashes are unusual. Sunday’s was the first at his airport.

The ultralight aircraft was not regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration, the sheriff’s department said. Regardless, the FAA has been informed of the crash and the sheriff’s department will send on its incident report for the FAA to review.

Sowle said he likes ultralight aircraft.

“I love them,” Sowle said. “You can sit there at 500 feet and fly around see deer, see turkeys in the field.”

Sowle has been the airport manager in Lowell for more than 15 years and had been flying long before that. He was recently grounded after a heart attack.

“It’s just pure recreational flying,” he said of the small aircraft. “The pure joy of being in the air and if you don’t do it, it’s a very hard thing to explain.”

Sowle doesn’t feel any new regulations or safety features could make the aircraft more safe and said that, unfortunately, sometimes accidents happen.

“It was a terrible thing,” he said.

He said flying a different model takes some practice.

“If you’ve never been in an airplane … have an instructor go with you for a couple, three hours so you can get familiar with the airplane and learn to it, learn to take it off, learn all your weight balance, all the things you need to know to be a pilot. It’s not like getting a car license or a motorcycle license. In any new airplane you ever get into, you should have an instructor with you,” Sowle said.

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