Rudolf Kapustin, 76, had 40-year career studying plane crashes

April 18, 2002|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

Rudolf Kapustin, a retired National Transportation Safety Board senior investigator who had studied headline-making air crashes for the past 40 years, died yesterday of pancreatic cancer at his Columbia home. He was 76.

He combed through the wreckage of disasters including the Air Florida crash at Washington's 14th Street Bridge in Washington. As a private consultant, he studied the Pan American crash at Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988, the TWA crash off Long Island in 1996 and the Swissair crash off Peggys Cove, Nova Scotia, in 1998. He frequently appeared on national television news shows.

"Rudy was a great friend of aviation safety," said Jim Hall, former NTSB chairman. "He was one of the pioneers in helping develop the board into what I think is the premier air safety organization in the world. I relied on his counsel and advice."

"He set the standard for the highest integrity and an infinite attention to detail which became the cornerstone of aircraft accident investigation," said Rep. James L. Oberstar, a Minnesota Democrat who is a member of the House Transportation Committee. "Rudy Kapustin created a gold standard. He was a dear, wonderful and unique human being."

The congressman recalled an investigation Mr. Kapustin led into a missing aircraft bolt that fell onto a snow-covered field in the upper Midwest. "He organized the people of the town. They took one step at a time," Mr. Oberstar said. "He told them to look down, do not look up until they found it. The bolt was an inch in diameter, but they found it."

Born in Mannheim, Germany, Mr. Kapustin moved with his parents to Hoboken, N.J., after the family left the Nazi-controlled country.

Mr. Kapustin had a job driving a fuel truck to New York's LaGuardia Airport while attending the Academy of Aeronautics in Queens, where he earned a certificate in 1947. From 1945 to 1953, he was a TWA engine mechanic.

After a year as a Curtiss-Wright Corp. field service engineering representative, he graduated from the Federal Aviation Administration Academy in Oklahoma City in 1962.

He was hired by the FAA as a jet engineering and manufacturing inspector, then joined its Civil Aeronautics Board and remained with the board's successor, the NTSB. He retired in 1986 and founded Intercontinental Aviation Safety Consultants.

In his free time, he enjoyed taking his children and grandchildren to baseball and football games.

He was active at Our Shepherd Lutheran Church in Highland in Howard County and belonged to its social ministry.

Services will be held at 10:30 a.m. Saturday at St. Paul's Lutheran Church, 2001 Old Frederick Road in Catonsville.

He is survived by his wife of 50 years, the former Vera Sedorvich; a son, Douglas Kapustin, a Sun photographer who lives in Dayton; three daughters, Eleanor Louise Kapustin of Gaithersburg, Elizabeth Marie Bryson of Elkridge and Rebecca Finnerty of Towaco, N.J.; and five grandchildren.

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