Glider crash kills three in Wallis

June 18, 2012 4:27:04 PM PDT
A Father's Day ride in a glider went horribly wrong, killing everyone on board, making it a tragic day for a Houston family.

The pilot, his daughter-in-law and her young son all perished yesterday when the glider they were in crashed while trying to get up in the air. The NTSB is at the crash site near Wallis, looking into the deadly crash.

The crash happened around 5:40pm on Highway 36 at Cougar Road near the GHSA-Wallis Glideport Gliderport at the Austin-Fort Bend county line.

We know the initial 911 call came in just before 5pm. DPS has identified the deceased occupants as 68-year-old Fred Blair, the glider pilot; his daughter-in-law, 32-year-old Matilda Blair; and his grandson, 3-year-old Andrew Blair.

Investigators say the accident happened on take-off and that the glider was under tow at the time it crashed. The aircraft is an ICA Brasof glider, a 2-seat, all-metal, tandem seat glider, meaning it has a seat in the front and one in back, rather than side-to-side.

Both seats have adequate flight controls, so the glider can be flown from either seat. Gliders don't have motors, so to get up into the air, they have to be towed. In this case, it was attached by rope 200 feet long, to another aircraft when it crashed during the climb.

"I have talked to the tow pilot. I have talked to witnesses. They were under tow, connected at approximately 75 feet when or the tow rope broke, and the glider above ground level," said Tom Latson, NTSB air safety investigator.

Records show the plane is registered to the Greater Houston Soaring Association, a group that offers recreational gliding outside Houston.

The FAA inspector is out here, as is the owner of the aircraft. They will start disassembling then moving the wreckage to a hangar at the nearby glider port.

The NTSB investigator says he has interviewed the tow pilot, and the ground operations managers. He'll also conduct a full investigation into the maintenance of this aircraft, the medical condition of the pilot, and so forth in the coming weeks.

The wreckage will be taken to a facility in Dallas.

We spoke to a friend of the victim who told us Fred Blair was a seasoned pilot and certified flight instructor. Members of the gliding community are mourning this family's tragic loss.

Last year, Eyewitness News profiled the gliders. About 175 people are members of another high-flying glider club known as The Soaring Club of Houston. That club's fleet consists of 35 of the gliders or sail-planes.

In August, members showed reporter Tom Abrahams how those gliders work like birds. They go up by catching pockets of hot air called thermals. Members spend their weekends in the skies above Fort Bend and Austin counties.


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