Airport Life Goes On, but Sadness Stays : Activity returned to normal at Santa Paula Airport Friday, two days after the midair collision that killed two people and injured three others, including actor Kirk Douglas.
But pilots and instructors said the atmosphere at the airport, which they compare to a small-town community, is far from normal.
“Everybody is grieved and walking around like they’re half-dazed,” said K.D. Johnson, a close friend of Lee Manelski, one of those killed in the crash.
Manelski, 46, and David Tomlinson, 18, were taking off in their Pitts aerobatic stunt plane Wednesday afternoon when they tried to evade the Bell JetRanger helicopter in which Douglas was a passenger. Manelski, a TWA pilot and nationally ranked aerobatic flier, was giving Tomlinson lessons in the sport when the crash occurred.
The collision was caused by the failure of the pilots of both aircraft to “see and avoid” each other, according to investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board. But officials, who estimate the investigation will take up to a year to complete, also said that the stunt plane had the right of way. The two local men were killed instantly in the collision, they said.
Douglas, 74, was listed in fair condition Friday at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, where he was taken by helicopter Wednesday night. The actor, who suffered head cuts and a possible broken rib, is expected to be released sometime this weekend, a hospital spokesman said.
Another occupant of the helicopter, Beverly Hills Police Officer Michael Carra, was treated and released from Santa Paula Memorial Hospital. Helicopter pilot Noel Blanc, 52, the son of well-known cartoon voice Mel Blanc, was in serious but stable condition at Santa Paula Memorial Hospital. He underwent surgery Friday afternoon to treat his fractured leg, a hospital spokeswoman said.
Meanwhile, friends and relatives of Manelski and Tomlinson mourned their loss.
Tomlinson’s older brother Chris, 25, arrived at the airport Friday afternoon to look at the wreckage of the plane in which his brother died.
“It’s a big shock,” he said. “It’s a pretty emotional time.”
David Tomlinson is survived by his parents, Harriet and Scott Tomlinson of Thousand Oaks, four older brothers and an older sister. Chris Tomlinson said he and another brother, Steve, hope to participate in a fly-by at a joint memorial service for the pilots.
The service is scheduled for 2 p.m. Feb. 24 at the hangar owned by Johnson, who said he took Manelski on his first aerobatic ride about 13 years ago.
Johnson said the memorial service will include talks by friends as well as the fly-by.
Services also were scheduled today in Santa Paula for Manelski, friends said. A private service will be held for Tomlinson, but plans have not been finalized, his brother Chris said.
Clay Phelps, who owns CP Aviation flight school, said a sense of loss pervades the airport. “We all basically stick together,” he said of the small community of pilots at the airport, which houses about 200 airplanes.
Some pilots said they were persuaded by the crash to use extra caution Friday.
“We communicated more on the radio coming in today,” said Tom Svoboda, 37, a flight instructor who made a run from Santa Barbara to Santa Paula with a student. “I was making sure I was reporting everything appropriately.”
But the crash did not deter pilots from flying in and out of the airport every few minutes Friday.
“Life goes on,” Johnson said. “We all understand that.”