My uncle Gary was in a fatal plane crash just a few months before I was born. He was only 17 years old and he was taking flying lessons with the hope of earning his pilot’s license. It must have seemed a perfectly safe and reasonable choice to his parents, as they lived close to the Van Nuys airport and his father was also a licensed private pilot.
Gary and his instructor took off from Van Nuys airport in the single-engine Ercoupe on Saturday, January 22, 1966. The Ercoupe has only two seats—Gary was seated in the left-hand seat and his instructor, Donald K. Carey, was seated in the right-hand seat. On their approach to the Santa Paula airport from the northeast, their plane apparently ran out of fuel just short of the airport. Their plane sputtered and lost altitude. The plane hit a eucalyptus tree in a residential backyard, and nearly hit two houses before it crashed into electrical and telephone wires. The plane made a hard landing on its right side, crushing the right wing and causing fatal injuries to Mr. Carey.