Best friends are killed in air crash

April 25, 1994|By John Rivera | John Rivera,Sun Staff Writer

Jesse Parker Jr. and Fred Harris III, 44-year-old North Carolinians, were best friends who graduated together from Howard University's dental school and served in the same Army unit.

Saturday afternoon, Dr. Parker, of Rocky Mount, and Dr. Harris, of Fayetteville, died together in a single-engine plane that crashed after an aborted landing at the College Park Airport as they flew to a meeting in Maryland.

The pilot, Barry L. Washington, 26, of Lillington, N.C., and Dr. Parker's wife, Paulette S. Parker, 41, also died in the crash.

The cause of the crash has not been determined, said Margaret Napolitan, an investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board.

A preliminary investigation of the the 1975 Beechcraft four-seater, which the pilot rented in Fayetteville, showed that its cables and basic engine parts were functional, said Ms. Napolitan.

Investigators yesterday were focusing on the possibility that the propeller blade was damaged after striking the runway, which might have affected the plane's ability to lift off after the aborted landing.

A team of investigators scoured the runway yesterday afternoon looking for evidence of such a propeller strike and found several slices, but were unable to determine if any came from the crashed plane.

Ms. Napolitan said metallurgical tests will be conducted on the damaged propellers and may yield some information.

Witnesses told investigators that the plane bounced on the runway three times before Mr. Washington tried to lift off again for a "go-around," a second attempt at landing, which is not uncommon.

"We're not sure why he aborted [the landing], but witnesses said he ran out of runway," Ms. Napolitan said.

The plane rose about 40 feet before veering to the left and crashing into the wall of the Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute Training Academy, about 400 yards from the runway. The crash caused about $30,000 damage to the building, Prince George's County fire officials said.

Several pilots at the College Park Airport yesterday agreed that a go-around is a normal pilot procedure. "I'd highly recommend it if there's any doubt on behalf of the pilot," said Bob Reynolds of Lanham, a private pilot with 12 years' experience. "I practice them intentionally."

A friend of the two dentists said it was difficult to lose both of them at the same time. "These were super people. They were tight friends," said Dr. Valerie Wynne-Hall, a Fayetteville dentist who knew all four of the victims.

Dr. Harris had two children, a 19-year-old daughter and a 17-year-old son. The Parkers had two daughters. Mr. Washington was not married.

After graduating from the Howard University dental school, Dr. Parker and Dr. Harris joined the Army and served for two years, between 1976 and 1978. They set up their own private practices, but still got together often.

They served in the same Army reserve unit, both as lieutenant colonels in the 310th Medical Detachment based in Durham, N.C. And they spoke on the phone every day for about 30 minutes, Dr. Wynne-Hall said.

Every month, Dr. Harris hooked up with his pilot friend, Mr. Washington, and they flew from Fayetteville to Rocky Mount, a town 70 miles north, where they picked up Dr. Parker.

Then they flew to Maryland for a monthly meeting of Howard University graduates who had formed an investment club.

Mr. Washington offered to fly the two dentists to their meetings because he was trying to accumulate enough hours to obtain a commercial pilot's license, Dr. Wynne-Hall said. NTSB officials said he held a rating for flying with instruments, which requires a higher level of skill than the normal visual flight license held by most private pilots.

Dr. Harris was also a pilot, and he always sat up front next to Mr. Washington during their trips, Dr. Wynne-Hall said.

"If it was a beautiful day, Barry and Fred would love to fly," said Dr. Wynne-Hall, who had been a passenger on many of their trips. "And they made you love flying."

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