Friday, October 23, 2009

The Passing of a Friend

Here, while in the US, I was told the sad news of the loss of a friend and world class pilot, Ron Royce, on Thursday, October 22nd. No matter where I seemed to travel in the world, at the mention of this saint's name, smiles come across faces and stories are recounted of the blessing of this man's life.

We are praying for his wife, Loretta, and his children and families.

I had the great opportunity of taking some training flights from Ron prior to my trip to Nampa, Idaho where, because of his training, I was able to pass their evaluation.

Here is an article recounting some preliminary findings: CLICK HERE

Plane crash victim a legend among pilots

By John Thompson
Elizabethton Bureau Chief

ELIZABETHTON — News of Thursday’s crash of a single-engine Cessna 206 has reverberated all over the world. That is because one of the two men killed in the crash was a legend among missionary aviators who fly in and out of some of the most remote airstrips in some of most difficult terrain in the world.

Ron Royce, 70, was described as an exceptional pilot by Joe Hopkins, founder of Mission Safety International. MSI is an agency established to promote safety in the mission fields and in missionary aviation, but the organization is not participating in the federal investigation of Thursday’s accident.

“He was the tops,” Hopkins said of Royce. “I knew him for 40 years.” He said Royce served as chief flight trainer for Moody Bible Institute’s missionary aviation school during the years it was located in Elizabethton. Stories about Royce are frequently told on missionary landing strips all over the globe.

Although he was 70 years old, Hopkins said Royce appeared to be much younger and kept himself in great shape.

“He flew with hundreds if not thousands of students,” Hopkins said. He said not only was Royce a great teacher, he also had a fun-loving and people-loving personality that made him popular with his students and allowed him to maintain close relationships with many of his former students even though they were spread all over the world.

Darrell Carver was one of those students. He arrived in Elizabethton for a meeting of the board of directors of Mission Safety International on Thursday and got word of Royce’s death later that day. He had planned to pay a call on Royce after the board meeting.

“He was a guy who loved people and was totally dedicated to his work. He was a natural teacher, a natural instructor. He had a great joy for living, he loved to laugh.”

Carver said one Royce technique he remembered was when the instructor turned the table on the student in a role-playing game. He said Royce would play the student and ask all kinds of questions that students had probably asked him. After the student playing the instructor answered, they would have a laugh and then he would have a serious discussion on the problem. It was a teaching method that obviously stuck.

When Moody left Elizabethton a few years for a new flight school in Spokane, Royce remained in Elizabethton and continued to teach missionary aviators. He provided specialized intensive training, similar to the training he was apparently conducting with Adam West, 38, the other victim of Thursday’s crash.

Not as much is known about West, except he moved his family from Wisconsin to East Tennessee recently to take specialized training with Royce.

Investigators from the Atlanta regional office of the National Transportation Safety Board were at the crash scene Friday morning to begin the job of determining the cause of the crash. The investigators will take all the wreckage to the NTSB facility in Griffin, Ga. Special attention will be given to the aircraft engine.

NTSB spokesman Butch Wilson said his initial observation was that the plane was heading west and was descending into the tall trees on the side of the ridge. He said his initial observation was that the propeller was not generating power at the time the plane crashed.

While that could indicate an engine problem, Wilson said there could be several reasons the propeller was not generating power and it does not by itself mean the engine failed.

The plane was a 1977 Cessna 206. Wilson said the log book was found with the plane but the fire had damaged the document. He said his investigators will be checking with the recent providers of maintenance on the plane to help determine its condition.

Wilson said the large amount of flames immediately after the crash were fed by the 90 pounds of aviation fuel the plane was carrying.

Hopkins said it was not unusual for the planes to be heavily loaded during a training session. Missionary pilots routinely carry large loads into primitive runways, but Royce was known to be a meticulous and careful pilot who taught his students the safe way to fly into some of the most dangerous places.

“He was rock solid,” Elizabethton Airport Manager Dan Cogan said. “He could fly the box the plane came in. That was the level of pilot he was. He was legendary as far as missionary pilots are concerned.”

It was because he was so good and so meticulous that news of his fatal crash has shocked so many in the missionary aviation community. MSI helped to spread the word of the crash by linking Thursday’s Johnson City Press article to its Web site.

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