Former Marine Corps League chaplain dies when kit plane crashes on its first flight

By MATT SMITH | Cleburne Times-Review, Texas | Published: December 23, 2020

CLEBURNE, Texas (Tribune News Service) — A Burleson pilot died Saturday after the kit plane he was flying crashed in a business parking lot.

Burleson police and firefighters responded to the back parking lot of a business at 605 E. Renfro St. where they found the crashed plane and pronounced Earl Kirkpatrick, 85, dead at the scene.

Kirkpatrick was the sole occupant of the plane, police said.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the crash.

The plane was a Sonex, a small kit aircraft that Kirkpatrick had taken for its first flight.

Kirkpatrick's son, Forrest Kirkpatrick, told nbcdfw.com that his father founded ELK Engineering Associates, a company specializing in corrosion engineering and electrical grounding services. Kirkpatrick, ELK principal engineer and chairman of the board, still worked four days a week at the company, his son said.

Kirkpatrick was a retired U.S. Marine who had served as a chaplain in the Marine Corps League, Forrest Kirkpatrick said. Kirkpatrick added that his father, in 2017, received the Joe Vickery Jr. Chaplain's Award and was named regional Marine of the year in 2019.

Forrest Kirkpatrick said his father loved flying throughout his life. Forrest said his father once struck up a conversation with a woman in Chick-fil-A after she mentioned that she had never flown before. Forrest Kirkpatrick said his father took the woman for her first flight the next day.

Forrest Kirkpatrick said his father bought the Sonex kit plane several years ago and spent the past seven years assembling it in a hangar he rented at Spinks Airport.

Forrest Kirkpatrick said his father bought a Mooney aircraft so he could continue to fly while he was building the Sonex.

Forrest Kirkpatrick said his father gave him a radio on Saturday before he took off in the Sonex so that his son could listen in on his conversation with the radio control tower.

Forrest Kirkpatrick said his father took off took off northbound and got almost out of site before turning around. Kirkpatrick said he heard his father say on the radio that he was losing altitude and was going to head back to the airport. Forrest Kirkpatrick said he also heard a voice from the control tower on the radio saying that they could see smoke coming from the engine of Kirkpatrick's airplane.

Forrest Kirkpatrick said he took off looking for his father after hearing him say that he didn't think he was going to be able to make it back to the airport.

Forrest Kirkpatrick said first responders were already on scene when he found his father's crashed airplane and that a bystander had used a stick to remove power lines from the plane so that Kirkpatrick would not be electrocuted.

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