Colleagues Remember Pilot for His Skills : Aviation: Crash of his jet killed five, including the head of a fast-food chain. He is called a dedicated aviator.
Stephen R. Barkin, the 46-year-old pilot of the corporate jet that crashed Wednesday in Santa Ana, killing him and four others, was remembered Sunday as a skilled and dedicated aviator who could handle himself in the most perilous flights.
At the memorial service at Peterson Aviation at Van Nuys Airport, pilots and friends described Barkin as “dedicated and professional” when he stepped into a cockpit, and a flier who always paid attention to the tiniest details.
After the one-hour memorial, they strongly defended him amid reports that he was flying the Westwind 1124A too near a United Airlines Boeing 757 and perhaps got caught in the larger plane’s turbulence.
“Steve was not a novice by any stretch of the imagination,” said Joe McGuire, president of Peterson Aviation and a pilot for 30 years. “He knew all about wake turbulence and it would be a factor he would be alert to. Knowing his care and attention to detail, it would be very surprising for him to be caught unaware.”
The National Transportation Safety Board is focusing its inquiry into the crash--which killed Barkin, his co-pilot and three others including hamburger magnate Richard A. Snyder--on wake turbulence in front of the Westwind as the mostly likely cause.
Federal Aviation Administration officials say that just before the crash, Barkin acknowledged a control tower warning that another plane was in front of him and he radioed back that he had it in his sight. But he may not have known it was such a large commercial plane, officials said.
McGuire said much of the discussion following the memorial service Sunday centered on speculation that the 757 was doing so-called “S-turns"--wide turns in the shape of the letter S that slow a plane if traffic is heavy but also create a wide swatch of turbulence in the sky.
“If that was the case, then Steve may have gotten to the plane in front of him a lot more quickly then he realized,” McGuire said. “The S-turns also increase the amount of wake turbulence and spread it over a wider area.”
FAA officials have made no mention of S-turns so far and could not be reached for comment Sunday night. But the NTSB has estimated that the Westwind closed to within two miles of the 757 just before the crash.
During the memorial service, attended by about 55 people, eight friends rose to speak about Barkin and his dedication to flying. At his death, he worked for Management Activities, a Long Beach charter flight service. At one time, he worked for Flight Safety International, a private training company that is known worldwide for teaching safety techniques.
Dr. Robert Gumbiner, founder and chairman of FHP International Corp. of Fountain Valley and head of Management Activities, said at the service that he often tried to one-up Barkin with jokes, but for every joke Gumbiner told, Barkin would counter with another.
Soon, Gumbiner said, he ran out of jokes that Barkin hadn’t already heard. Gumbiner also praised Barkin, saying he always had supreme confidence in Barkin’s ability as a pilot.
Barkin’s widow, Jane, brought in a collage of photos that depicted her late husband at many stages of his life. One showing him with a perm drew laughs during the somber occasion, McGuire said.
“That look was so out of character for Steve and yet it said so much,” McGuire said.
The eclectic Barkin, born in New York, had a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Minnesota and a degree in computer programming. He was also an excellent pianist, friends remembered. He and his wife moved to Canyon Country four years ago.
During the memorial, a colleague recalled how Barkin had once gone from a flight in the Amazon jungle--where he complained about the intense humidity--directly into sub-zero temperatures of Moscow.
McGuire said a friend of Barkin’s insisted that the memorial be held at an airport site and McGuire was glad to have the service in the conference room of the general aviation company, which opened just last week at the Van Nuys airport.
Besides Barkin’s widow, his stepsons, ages 21 and 19, also attended. Barkin’s funeral is to be held today in West Palm Beach, Fla., where his parents live.