Friday, November 03, 2006

Balloon Pilot Passes Away

Condolences to the family of Peter Fay

Crash cause unknown, balloon pilot passes away.

Trace Christenson
The Enquirer

Investigators are working to determine the cause of a single-engine plane
crash Thursday in Pennfield Township that killed an Illinois pilot.

Peter Fay, 48, of Mundelein, Ill., a hot-air balloon pilot who has competed
in Battle Creek, died about 2 p.m. when the airplane he was flying smashed
into a field just east of the intersection of M-66 and M-78 about seven
miles northeast of downtown Battle Creek.

The plane crashed about 200 yards behind a house at 23375 M-78. Fay was
alone in the plane and no one else was hurt in the crash.

The single-engine red and white plane hit the ground and flipped over,
breaking in half behind the passenger compartment.

Pennfield Fire Chief Tim Smith said Fay was still strapped in his seat upon
impact. He was pronounced dead at the scene by Robert Demski, an
investigator for the Calhoun County Medical Examiner.

Records from the Federal Aviation Administration show the 1957 Cessna 175
was registered to Fay.

A family friend, Alan Blount of Palos Park, Ill., said Fay had flown the
plane to Saginaw to visit a friend who was ill and to do some bow hunting.
Investigators found a bow in the wreckage.

Fay had spoken to his wife, Laura, about noon Thursday and said he was on
his way home.

Saxton said Fay later had radio contact with the airport tower in Kalamazoo
and reported his wings were icing and he thought he had a field he could
land in.

"The information we received was that he spotted an open field and was going
to attempt to land in it, then he was lost on the radar."

Investigators said they believed the plane was headed northeast when it

Captain Matt Saxton of the Calhoun County Sheriff Department said an autopsy
is scheduled today at Sparrow Hospital in Lansing.

FAA officials were at the scene Thursday and are expected to return today
along with investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board,
Saxton said.

Smith said emergency personnel were notified about 2 p.m. that the plane was
in trouble and disappeared from radar northeast of Battle Creek.

"We got a call that said the plane was having a problem," Smith said. "That
he was having an issue and looking for a field.

"We put out rigs to scour the area," Smith said. "We had probably 12 guys in
four rigs."

Michigan State Police, Calhoun County Sheriff deputies, Battle Creek Police
and crash rescue teams from the Michigan Air National Guard Base at W.K.
Kellogg Airport also began looking for the plane.

Smith said a Pennfield firefighter found the plane about 15 minutes later.
The pilot was dead when the first emergency responders reached the wreckage.

Fay was a retired nuclear engineer who had been working as a plant manager
for a food processing company northwest of Chicago, Blount said.

The two men became friends in the 1980s because of hot air ballooning.

They had flown together many times and, along with Harold Graves, a
Wisconsin pilot, had competed in the Team U.S. Nationals in Battle Creek
starting in the late 1990s.

"He was an intelligent person and just as kind as anyone can possibly be,"
Blount said.

Blount said Fay's relationship with children best described him.

Fay told Blount's daughter, Sarah, an aviation student at Purdue University,
"that any time you need to borrow the airplane to come on up because it
needs exercise."

For the last two years, Blount said, Fay has taken his own daughter and
Sarah Blount to Oshkosh, Wis. for the Experimental Aircraft Association air
show "and they camped under the wing."

Dick Rudlaff, president of the North American Balloon Association, said Fay
had "always been an excellent pilot who used an average balloon but once he
got some new equipment he flew much better."

Rudlaff called Fay "a great, all around guy who had been flying
competitively forever and taken it seriously. He was always concerned about
the sport and wanted to help people and talk to people about it."

"This is just so hard to believe," he said.

Trace Christenson covers crime and courts. He can be reached at 966-0685 or

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