Pilot had been on cell phone
The pilot and co-owner of a single-engine plane who died in a nighttime crash by Interstate 81 had been chatting on cell phone with the plane's other co-owner who was traveling along the highway in a tractor-trailer, according to a federal accident report. Augusta County resident Benjamin R. Hickin, 30, died February 23 after the single-engine Cessna 182 he was flying flew low, hit a power line, lost a wing, and erupted into flames and crashed next to the highway near the rest stop north of Staunton. A preliminary report from the National Transportation Safety Board indicates that no flight plan had been filed but that Hickin reported 4,000 hours of flying experience.
One press account indicated that one wing tip hit a tractor trailer's windshield before the 11:15pm crash. Whether that was Hickin's colleague's truck has not yet been revealed.
The Staunton News-Leader reports that Hickin's aeronautical passion included hanging out at Eagle's Nest airport (where the flight originated) as a child and studying at LeTourneau University, an evangelical Christian institution with a large aeronautical science program. Hickin went on to fly for Colgan Air and Dulles-based Gemini Air Cargo. The Harrisonburg News-Record reports that flying was such a passion that Hickin also flew for the Flying Circus, the seasonal weekly airshows in Fauquier County. Hickin leaves a wife and five children.
Update/correction: Original reporting in the Waynesboro News-Virginian says, "Contrary to the NTSB report, Hickin was not a part owner of the airplane, although sources say he had flown it many times before." The News-Virginian names the friend who was being buzzed in the tractor-trailer as Sean Welliver of Staunton who "has a quarter interest in the aircraft - the same as retired Waynesboro physician John Powell Anderson, Waynesboro prosecutor Thomas Weidner and Christopher Cross, the owner of Ben Franklin Crafts in Waynesboro. All four make up the plane’s ownership group, Waynesboro Skylanes LLC."