Pilot in deadly Fredericksburg plane crash gave free flights to vets, friends say
By LUZ MORENO-LOZANO | Austin American-Statesman | Published: November 19, 2018
(Tribune News Service) — Friends and acquaintances have identified one of two people killed Saturday in a plane crash in Fredericksburg as Cowden Ward, Jr., a pilot who worked in an organization that gives complimentary flights to veterans.
Ward and a World War II veteran died after the vintage airplane they were traveling in, a WWII-era P-51D Mustang Fighter, crashed into the parking lot of the Friendship Place Apartments around 3:15 p.m. Saturday, officials have said.
The other victim has not been identified. Authorities have not officially named either victim.
The flight was part of a battle reenactment show hosted by the National Museum of the Pacific War on Saturday, witnesses have said.
Ward, who was from Burnet, worked as a pilot for Freedom Flyers, which invites WWII veterans and purple heart recipients on flights to thank them for their service. The plane, known as Pecos Bill, was owned by Ward.
"Today we mourn the loss of our dear friend Cowden Ward and his honored passenger, a WWII B-17 Pilot," Freedom Flyers wrote Sunday on its Facebook page. "Cowden established Freedom Flyers with a mission and a passion to honor veterans with flights in his beloved P-51 Pecos Bill. Over the years he did just that, honoring hundreds of our nation's veterans including a large number of WWII veterans. The news of this tragedy has left all of his friends and family heartbroken. We hope that everyone will remember his infectious smile, his passion for flying our nations veterans, and above all remember him for the amazing pilot, friend and caring person he was."
The National WWII Gilder Pilot Association, a nonprofit that honors troop carrier pilots and personnel, said Ward had worked with the organization since 2013 offering hundreds of rides to veterans. National Chairman Otto Lyons said in a Facebook post that Ward had attended all of the organization's reunions since then, including the most recent one held in October.
At the first reunion, a dozen veterans showed up wanting to fly with Cowden, but it started getting late and it seemed like some of them would not be able to go on the ride.
"But, Cowden would not let that happen and flew until each one of us had the flight of our dreams," Lyons wrote. "Thank you, Cowden...You will me missed, High Flight."
Dozens of others also offered condolences on the museum's Facebook page.
The National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration are investigating the crash.
NTSB air safety investigator Ed Malinowski said they are examining the wreckage to determine a cause, which has not been identified. He said the investigation will involve examining the plane's mechanics and structure, its flight history and how it was maintained as well as the pilot's record and the weather at the time of the crash.
Malinowski said he planned to wrap up the investigation of the scene Sunday. The plane will then be moved to a secure facility where it can be examined further if necessary. He said he plans to release a preliminary report this week. Determining a cause for the crash could take up to a year.
The Pacific War museum, which is about a mile away from where the crash happened, was hosting its November WWII Pacific Combat Program on Saturday. It included battlefield reenactments showcasing the equipment and weapons used in the war.
Regina Auais Vales, who drove from Austin to see the show, said the plane Ward was flying was part of the museum's program and had flown several times over the field where the reenactment took place.
Toward the end of the program, Auais Vales said the plane did a 360-degree flip that looked forced. Then it dropped sharply into a nosedive until it disappeared behind a line of trees "and never came back up," she said.
The flip "looked like it was part of the show, but such a sharp drop obviously wasn't," Auais Vales said.
The audience didn't hear the crash over the sound of the show's music, and they never saw smoke come up, she said. Sirens were heard shortly after, but the show ended without mention of the crash, Auais Vales said. It wasn't until she was on her way back to Austin that a relative called her and told her about the crash, she said.
Resident Marc Vetti, who lives two buildings away from where the plane crashed, said he was in his bedroom at the time of the crash.
"I heard a bunch of kids screaming 'oh my God' and an engine sputtering," he said. "As it got closer, I realized it was a plane."
Vetti said he ran outside as quickly as he could and saw the plane coming down in a spiral over one of the apartment buildings before it crashed and bounced toward the carport.
Azaria McCarver, 11, said she was playing outside with friends when she witnessed the plane crash.
"At first it was doing tricks so we were waving to it and it got down so low we could actually see the person waving," she said. "He went back into the sky and then it crashed."
American-Statesman reporter Ariana Garcia contributed to this report.
©2018 Austin American-Statesman, Texas
Visit Austin American-Statesman, Texas at www.statesman.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.