April 27, 1999
I went to Eric Pressley's funeral last night. There was a crowd. Eric was well known.
I met Eric back in the seventies. He was a 10 year old kid, running around his father's aircraft salvage yard. If Eric was ever interested in anything other than airplanes, I never heard of it. He began his flying career sitting in his dad's lap, holding the wheel, flying by the instruments. When he was tall enough to reach the rudders and see out, he soloed himself.
I recommended Eric for the private pilot check ride. He was an excellent pilot. In his all-to-short career, Eric flew about every airplane you can think of. As owner and operator of one of the largest salvage companies, U.S. Air Salvage, he flew airplanes to Johnson City, Tennessee from all over the country.
Eric's last flight was on April 23 in a Beechcraft Travelair. He bought the airplane from an insurance company. It had been sitting in Panama City, Florida for a year and a half. His father, Jerry Pressley, flew him to Panama City in a Bonanza, helped get the Travelair running, then followed as Eric took off and headed North.
At the funeral home Jerry told me what he knew of the accident. Eric, with no radios working, began flashing his lights to signal trouble. Jerry was able to see him motion that he was going down.
In the pine forests north of Panama City, there were few good choices for an emergency landing. Eric, with both engines feathered, went over a tower, under a power line, got the gear down and landed on a country road. Jerry said the three tire tracks clearly showed the Travelair to be on the road. But then the road took a turn to the right which Eric was going too fast to negotiate. The Travelair hit some large trees along the road.
Jerry watched the crash from the air, then landed the Bonanza on the road. When he got to the scene, Eric was unconscious with a weak pulse. He died minutes later, never regaining consciousness. Jerry said it took the ambulance an hour to get there, but there was no need for them to hurry.
What could cause both engines to quit at once? Water in the fuel? Probably. Eric has flown hundreds of airplanes bound for the salvage yard. He's put dozens of them down on roads, pasture fields, golf courses, etc. He was a good pilot ... and a lucky one. But this time his luck ran out.