Richard Allen Pendergist
Lieutenant (jg), United States Navy
Sunday, November 2, 2003
Richard Allen Pendergist, the 59-year-old Fauquier County resident who was killed October 18, 2003, when his ultralight aircraft crashed along the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, was a retired Navy Ensign and former videographer for Unisys Corp.
An ultralight airplane enthusiast and experienced pilot, he was flying with Michael Alfred Moulds touring the changing leaf colors of the Shenandoah Valley. Moulds also was killed.
The two-seat aircraft landed upside down about five miles from the Holly Spring airport in Louisa County, according to a Virginia State Police spokesman.
Ensign Pendergist, who was born in Little Rock, Arkansas, learned to fly ultralight airplanes after retiring from the Navy in 1982. He had spent 17 years on active military duty, mainly as a photographer. In 1980, he was the Navy's chief photo officer for the inauguration of Ronald Reagan.
In retirement, he worked about 11 years as a videographer for Unisys and on and off as a portrait photographer. He also served in the Naval Reserve, attaining the rank of Lieutenant Junior Grade.
Flying became his main interest. He served as president of Ultralight Club 1 of Northern Virginia and executive vice president of the U.S. Ultralight Association. He worked on a number of the association's programs, including one to introduce high school students to flying.
His marriages to Karen Pendergist and Barbara Pendergist ended in divorce.
Survivors include four children from his first
marriage, Wesley Pendergist of Falls Church, Lynsi Pendergist Pfleegor
of Marbury and Jeffrey Pendergist and Tamara Pendergist Crown, both of
Indian Head; two brothers; a sister; and four grandchildren.
A weekend gathering of ultralight airplane enthusiasts, who came to admire the changing leaf colors along the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, ended sadly Saturday afternoon when one of the 480-pound planes landed upside down, killing two men.
The victims were the top staff member of the Frederick-based U.S. Ultralight Association and a Leesburg light-plane pilot who had organized the day's events.
Richard Allen Pendergist, 59, of Bealeton, Virginia, the association's executive vice president, and Michael Alfred Moulds, 58, of Leesburg Falls, treasurer of the ultralight association's Club 1 in Northern Virginia, died in the 4:26 p.m. crash about five miles from the Holly Spring airport in Louisa County, according to a Virginia State Police spokesman.
Phil Williams, membership chairman of the ultralight club, said Moulds had started the "color run" gathering three years ago. The pilots took off from Warrenton on Saturday morning, flew into the Shenandoah Valley and down the west side of the mountain range, before returning to the east side and north toward Warrenton.
Williams said the two men, in Pendergist's two-seat Rans S12 ultralight trainer, refueled at the Eagle's Nest airfield at the foot of the Blue Ridge and were headed for Holly Spring to meet members of another ultralight club.
It was a lovely day full of brightly colored trees and sweet breezes, as the club members flew low enough to wave at people canoeing on the Shenandoah River, Williams said. "If you want to see the fall colors," he said, "you can go up to Skyline Drive and look out from your car or you can fly over the valley and see it all from the air."
Williams, who visited the scrub-brush crash site and helped recover the destroyed aircraft, said he is not certain why the crash proved so deadly.
"Ultralights are slow and not very heavy, and when a crash occurs, usually the plane falls apart but the people walk away," he said. "We are scratching our heads right now."
The deaths of two such active and experienced ultralight pilots are likely to raise the same questions about small sport planes that occurred when singer John Denver died in the crash of an experimental plane, slightly heavier than an ultralight, in Monterey County, Calif. The crash was caused by his failure to refuel before taking off. The U.S. Ultralight Association has worked to improve safety, Williams said, particularly in providing what the group's Web site calls "knowledgeable and enthusiastic certified flight instructors."
The Web site said Pendergist had worked as a contractor for the Federal Aviation Administration on the Aeronautical Data Link program and had been a registered ultralight pilot since 1988.
Moulds's wife, Sandy, said he died on the 16th anniversary of their first date, a horse carriage ride around Chicago. She said he first worked as a welder in Kansas City, Mo., and then learned computer programming at night and began a long career with several companies as a computer project manager, setting up systems and making sure they worked. When he was laid off three years ago by a large company, he decided to set up his own firm, Loudoun Small Business Computers, from the couple's home in Leesburg.
"He said he would help any company with 10 computers or less," she said.
His passion for the outdoors and for flying began in the 1960s, his wife said, when he trained to fly gliders in Arizona. He began flying ultralights about six years ago, she said, and kept his plane at Warrenton Airpark but did not feel it was in good enough shape to fly Saturday, she said.
"He loved the fall colors -- the 'color run,' he called it," she said.
"He was a giver, not a taker," she added. "If anyone was in trouble, he was right there."
Ultralight aircraft evolved from the hang-glider trend of the 1970s, with one-person glider enthusiasts figuring they could stay up much longer with a small engine. The two-seat trainer ultralight, like the one that crashed Saturday, was designed in the 1980s to improve safety by giving newcomers a way to learn the perils of flight in the slow craft -- often no faster than 60 mph -- from an experienced pilot sitting behind them.
Ultralights have been adapted to several uses,
including aiding the relocation of endangered birds and for warfare. During
the Iraq war in March, at least two Iraqi ultralights were spotted over
U.S. Army positions, the Army Times has reported.
Of Bealeton, Virginia, a decorated Naval Officer, and Ultralight Pilot and Instructor, died October 18, 2003, in Louisa County, VA, as a result of an airplane accident.
Interment on October 31 at Arlington National
Cemetery at 1 p.m. For additional information call 301-743-5478.