An aircraft crash last Thursday in southwest Oklahoma claimed the life of well-known, longtime Hailey pilot and flight instructor Art Lazzarini.
The cause of the crash remains unknown as the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation and Safety Board examine the wreckage of a single-engine Dahlman-Dower Tailwind W-8 that Lazzarini was flying, apparently on a cross-country trip. According to news reports in Oklahoma, the downed aircraft was found early Thursday afternoon north of Elk City, Okla.
Friends and fellow pilots in the Wood River Valley told the Idaho Mountain Express that Lazzarini was not a stranger to aircraft crashes.
"He walked away from more emergency landings than anyone I know," said fellow pilot Margie Cooper. "You don't fly that many times without getting into a few scrapes."
Lazzarini, 63, had flown most of his life, with thousands of hours in the air, 19,000 alone as an instructor. He was a certified instructor and examiner for the Federal Aviation Administration.
According to FAA records, Lazzarini owned or co-owned four aircraft based in Hailey, including the Dahlman-Dower Tailwind W-8 that crashed in Oklahoma.
The Sayre Record newspaper in Sayre, Okla., reported this week that the wreckage was found at about 1:15 p.m. by a rancher in a rural area of southwest Oklahoma. Lazzarini had left an airfield in Sayre around 11:15 a.m. but later reported that his altimeter was not working. Police in the area were asked to start looking for the aircraft after the FAA informed them that the plane had dropped off radar.
Beckham County, Okla., Sheriff Scott Jay told the Sayre Record that Lazzarini had been flying in circles in low-level clouds prior to the crash.
The Sayre Record reported that witnesses said the aircraft crashed into a ditch, then tumbled over a fence and scattered wreckage over an open field for about 40 yards. Lazzarini died on impact.
The Sayre Record wrote that the FAA reported that Lazzarini was on a cross-country trip when the accident occurred.
Fellow pilots told the Express that Lazzarini had survived numerous crashes in the past, with one estimate as high as 11. Before Thursday, his latest brush with death came on July 14, 2009, in the Frank Church Wilderness Area in central Idaho.
According to an online report from the GEOS International Emergency Response Coordination Center, Lazzarini was instructing a pilot in backcountry flight training when the single engine Cessna 206 clipped the top of a tall pine tree shortly after takeoff from a mountain airstrip near the Middle Fork of the Salmon River. The pilot suffered only minor injuries but Lazzarini sustained a broken pelvis and fractures to his left arm, wrist and hand.
Margie Cooper and her husband, Cameron Cooper, who live in Ketchum, told the Express that they had formerly owned aircraft with Lazzarini and that both had taken instruction and certification flights with him.
Cameron Cooper said Lazzarini had trained many local pilots.
"There were probably 25 or 30 people in the valley who flew with him," he said.
Margie Cooper said Lazzarini had a knack for walking away from crashes.
"Most people would say he walked away from more crashes than anyone," she said. "He was really a good pilot and knew how to put a plane down in an emergency landing. I think everyone in the aviation community would speak very highly of Art."
Lazzarini was also an author, and published a few years ago a whimsical look at backcountry flying entitled "Cows Blow Grass."
"I can sell a rotten tomato with my name on it," Lazzarini joked in an interview with the Express in 2008. "Over the years I wrote articles, and thought I could write a book and so I put it together. It's 160 pages and self-published.
"In flying we have lots of acronyms to remember complicated things. The title comes from teaching in the backcountry and on unapproved landing strips. Cow stands for what is on the runway, such as elk, people, campers or trucks. Blow means which way the wind blows and grass is what kind of landing surface."
The book is available locally or can be found at Amazon.com. Lazzarini authored the book under the penname "Artie" Lazzarini.
The Express has not yet received an obituary for Lazzarini, nor have services been announced.
Terry Smith: firstname.lastname@example.org