"In the cargo world, it's negative to come back and say you couldn't do it. When you say you cannot accomplish something and you're a passenger pilot, everybody has this emotion of safety -- and 'It's OK. We didn't want you to take that chance with the lives on board.' "
- Rebecca Loranger, pilot
After the crash, Ameristar gave the folder back -- with the maintenance logs gone, she said. "After Royce's plane went down, there was someone immediately from Ameristar there. And someone from the FAA. There was no one to represent Royce."
Their insurance coverage was $20,000. With double indemnity, it paid $40,000.
The couple had young twin sons, and Stephanie Read was pregnant with their third child when her husband died. Today his children's photo album says: This is my Daddy. He died in a plane crash and he can't live with us anymore.
Two years later, another company plane went down after overrunning a Del Rio International Airport runway, killing the captain, 29, and burning the first officer, 38, in an accident attributed to pilot failures.
Teak Biondo, listed in NTSB reports as Ameristar's director of operations, declined to discuss the two crashes or the industry's safety record. "No comments on any of it," he said. Cargo pilots fly more hours than their peers navigating passenger planes. They often do so against the clock, while much of the nation sleeps.
"From livestock to mail. I've flown bank checks to live chickens," said Rebecca Loranger, who regularly flew over rough Alaskan terrain and once safely landed a cargo plane that lost an engine over Pennsylvania. "Cargo pilots on the whole are typically more skilled. They do fly in worse weather."
The culture is different.
"In the cargo world, it's negative to come back and say you couldn't do it. When you say you cannot accomplish something and you're a passenger pilot, everybody has this emotion of safety -- and 'It's OK. We didn't want you to take that chance with the lives on board,' " Loranger said.
In dense Alabama fog at 1:43 a.m. Dec. 1, 2001, a Cessna 208B flying as Fast Check 600 went down, killing pilot Michael J. O'Neill and copilot Dimitri Tohovitis.
The Air Carriers pilots flew on a night so rough that one witness said the fog was the thickest he had ever seen at the airport.
"The money he was making down there was peanuts, really," but he did it "to put [in] some flight time to find another job," said the copilot's father, Athanasios Tohovitis. "I lost my son. My wife and my kids, they are still crying every day."
Another victim was Mark Blevins, 40.
A client had called his cargo company, Priority Air Charter, to see if it could deliver goods to Detroit on a March 2002 evening so dangerous with icing that at least one other company's plane was forced to make an emergency landing.
The client wanted to know: Could Blevins still fly? "The Priority Air Charter dispatcher responded, 'Yes, I spoke with my boss and we can do it,' " records show.
| Reporting by Ronnie Greene | Photography by Candace Barbot | Audio Editing by Rhonda Victor Sibilia | Online Production by Stephanie Rosenblatt | (c) Miami Herald July 9, 2006 |