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Former Sheppard AFB T-38 instructor, brother killed in plane crash

ABILENE, Texas — A former instructor at Sheppard Air Force Base and his brother were killed in a Sunday evening plane crash near Abilene Regional Airport. Both were ”outstanding men” who had served in the Air Force for many years, their family said Monday.

Air Force Maj. Ricky Schafer, 35, of Columbus, Miss., and Matthew Taylor Schafer, 28, of Abilene, died Sunday when Ricky Schafer’s small plane crashed shortly after takeoff from the airport, according to the Abilene Fire Department. Ricky Schafer had been a T-38 instructor at SAFB.

Victoria Schafer, 31, was seriously injured in the crash and was listed in fair condition Monday at Hendrick Medical Center. She is the wife of Matthew Taylor Schafer, who went by Taylor. Their son, Wyatt Schafer, 2, was treated and released from the hospital and is being cared for by his grandparents, his family said.

Taylor Schafer was a former Dyess Air Force Base airman who had seen combat duty, according to family. He left the Air Force recently for medical reasons. Gwen Wells, the Schafers’ cousin, said Taylor Schafer met Victoria in Abilene, and they continued to live in town after he left the Air Force. They also have a 4-week-old baby, John Luke. Ricky Schafer and his family met his nephew for the first time during the Labor Day weekend visit.

Ricky Schafer — who leaves a wife and two young daughters — spent years building the single-engine plane, Wells said. He was a fighter pilot and flight instructor in the Air Force. While home built planes are classified as experimental, his plane had been completed and certified for flight earlier this summer, and it had already made several long flights to and from Texas before the crash Sunday.

“We’re all going to miss them,” Wells said. “They’re going to leave a really big hole.”

Wells said the Schafer brothers had a “great sense of humor” and were caring and “levelheaded.”

“They were some of the best people I knew,” she said.

Curtis Fell, the Schafers’ cousin and Wells’ brother, said the brothers were “both outstanding men who served their country and were well loved by family and friends.”

The plane took off from the airport and was spotted making a hard banking turn shortly after departure, officials at the scene said Sunday. It then headed toward the airport before crashing.

National Transportation Safety Board investigator Tom Latson said the plane arrived in Abilene from San Marcos just after 6 p.m. Several passengers got off, and more got on for a “short local flight.”

“Shortly after takeoff, they reported to the control tower that they had an emergency and needed to return,” Latson said.

The airplane was “extensively fragmented from the impact,” Latson said, and all four people were ejected or partially ejected from the plane. The engine traveled across Industrial Boulevard. Latson said the on-scene investigation is expected to be completed Tuesday. He said his preliminary report will be on the NTSB website in about a week, but his final report will probably take six to 12 months, and then will be reviewed by the agency’s board.

Columbus Air Force Base issued a news release about Maj. Richard Schafer III’s death.

“This is a tragic event that affects not only Team BLAZE, but our community partners both here and in Abilene,” Col. John Nichols, 14th Flying Training Wing commander, said in the prepared statement. “Our thoughts and prayers are with Major Schafer’s family as they cope with this painful tragedy.”

The NTSB posted on its Twitter account late Sunday that the agency would be investigating the “crash of an experimental Schafer Foxtrot 4 in Abilene, Texas.”

The investigators will review the flight’s operations, the wreckage at the scene, the plane’s engines and systems, air traffic control data, weather, human performance and survival factors, according to the NTSB website.

Latson said any witnesses should email witness@ntsb.gov, and any friends and family who want to contact investigators about the accident should email assistance@ntsb.gov.

©2014 the (Wichita Fallas, Texas) Times Record News. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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