By Christian Holtz
On late Monday afternoon, July 10, Joshua Dierks, flying a twin-engine Piper PA31 Chieftain for Airpac Airlines, radioed air traffic control that he was having difficulty maintaining altitude. At the time, he was in the vicinity of Stampede Pass en route to Boeing Field (BFI) from Spokane. He elected to divert to Easton State Airport (ESW) a few miles back, off of Interstate 90, and was nearing the airport when his plane hit trees that tore off part of the wing. The aircraft then went nose-over into the ground and crashed less than a quarter mile from the airstrip.
Dierks, 11 days short of his 27th birthday, died on impact. The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the cause of the crash.
This is the second fatality for Airpac in six months. On the evening of Jan. 6, 2006, top aerobatic air show pilot Eric Beard crashed an Airpac Piper PA34 Seneca into woods at Skagit Regional Airport (BVS) in Burlington, Wash., while trying to land in bad weather.
Dierks’ death has stunned many in the Seattle flying community, where he was known as a consummate instructor and an honest and hardworking pilot. He began working for Airpac, a Boeing Field–based freight carrier, last April after two years as a flight instructor at Wings Aloft, a Seattle flight school and flying club.
“He was happy flying for Airpac and said he loved his work. He said he had weekends off and could come home every night to his wife Shannon,” said Meg Godlewski, a flight instructor at Wings Aloft who was hired there about the same time as Dierks.
“Joshua’s love of flying was a gift from his grandpa, Carl, and uncles, Carl Jr. and Robert Person, who helped guide and teach Josh through his years of classes, training and flying experiences,” said Dierks’ mother, Linda Person Dierks. She added that her son was “inspirational, loving, kind, giving and understanding.”
“He was always concerned for others before himself,” she said.
Robert Person, an airline pilot with American Airlines, said Dierks was to start as a first officer with Horizon Airlines early next year.
“He could have begun sooner but he said he had a verbal agreement to stay nine months with Airpac. That’s the way Joshua was,” said Person. “He gave his word and he wasn’t going back on it.”
Godlewski said that everyone liked Joshua Dierks.
“He had a great sense of humor and was great with his students,” she said. “I don’t know of anyone who didn’t like him.”
Godlewski told how one of Dierk’s students had been nervous at the controls and lacked confidence in her abilities.
“Never once did Josh get impatient with her,” said Godlewski. “All of us at Wings Aloft missed him when he went to Airpac.”
Dierks was born July 21, 1979, in Seattle, and grew up on Mercer Island. He attended Mercer Island High School and later Western Washington University, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in computer science.
At Western Washington University, he met his future wife, Shannon Nicole. The couple recently purchased a house in Kent, Wash., and would have celebrated their second wedding anniversary July 31.
When Dierks started at Wings Aloft, he designed their website. And when Godlewski was entrusted with creating a seminar on the Garmin G1000 integrated avionics system, Dierks showed her how to create a PowerPoint presentation and even replaced many of the images himself.
“He was always cognizant of his coworkers and very helpful to them,” said Godlewski.
A recent example of his community spirit was the fact that he had attended an Angel Flight forum at the Northwest EAA Fly-in at Arlington just three days before his death. Angel Flight provides free air transportation through volunteer pilots in response to medical and other compelling human needs.
“Like when you drop a pebble into a pool,” said Godlewski, “I’ve become very aware of the ripple effects of Joshua’s life. There are so many people whose lives he touched.”
More than 300 persons filled Grace Community Church in Auburn, Wash., for a memorial service for Dierks on July 17. At the service, another Wings Aloft flight instructor, Mike Birdsall, stated, “If I could, I’d give up all my flight hours to have just another ten minutes with Josh.”
A memorial fund through the Bank of America has been started in Joshua Dierks’ name. It’s hoped that the funds raised will help allow Dierks’ widow, Shannon Nicole Dierks, stay in their first home that they both loved and worked so hard on.
Interested persons are asked to contribute to the Joshua Dierks Memorial Fund at any Bank of America. Call 206-763-2113 with any questions.