June 23, 2007

Crash victims' love for flying is recalled

TAYLORSVILLE -- Two Alexander County men who died in a plane crash Thursday were remembered by family and friends Friday for their love of flying and desire to live life to the fullest.

Dr. Walter Long Jr. and Benny Hall Sharpe, both of Taylorsville, were killed Thursday when Long's small, single-engine plane crashed on a rural airfield and skidded into trees lining the grassy runway.

"It was Dr. Long's dream to get a plane and fly when he retired," said Mary Overton, a nurse who worked with Long for nearly 40 years. "He just loved being outside and making the most of his life."

Aviation officials Friday were investigating the wreck and expected to complete a preliminary report within 10 days, said Paul Cox, senior air safety investigator from the National Transportation Safety Board. It could take a year, Cox said, before the final investigation report is released.

The men, said friend and Statesville-based pilot Phil Hazel, were taking the Cessna 182C -- formerly owned by Dale Earnhardt, according to Observer news partner WCNC -- for a leisurely flight on a clear day. They had planned to return to the Taylorsville Airport, where their cars were parked, he said.

Long, a 75-year-old former physician, and Sharpe, a 70-year-old retired Piedmont Airlines and U.S. Airways pilot, loved flying and traveling, especially across the open wilderness of Alaska and Canada, family and friends said.

After Long retired from a nearly 40-year career as a family practitioner, he began plotting long journeys across the nearly untouched parts of North America, said Dr. Russell Faulkenberry, Long's former partner at Family Care Center in Taylorsville.

Often, usually in the early fall, Faulkenberry said, Long and his wife, Mary, would pack up their camper and head north.

"They'd drive as far as they could go, even after the road ended," Faulkenberry said. "He lived to be physically active. He was a brilliant man, and he found the world interesting."

Sharpe, too, had spent time exploring the north's rough terrain. In the early 1990s, before Sharpe retired from a nearly 25-year career as a commercial airline pilot, he bought a seaplane and mapped out, stop-by-stop, a trip over the Rocky Mountains, into Canada and across the Arctic Circle and Nova Scotia.

"He's the most methodical person I've ever seen in a plane," said his nephew, John Sharpe. "Uncle Benny flying, well, he was a perfectionist."

That attention to detail, said Sharpe's daughter, 45-year-old Constance Sharpe, was consistent in everything her father did.

"He understood the responsibility that came with the job he had, and from that perspective he taught us how to be responsible and independent," she said. "I'm proud to say I'm just like him."

By MARCIE YOUNG. Contact: myoung@charlotteobserver.com
Source: Charlotte.com

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