By S. Clayton Moore
A midair collision in Ohio claimed the lives of four passionate pilots on October 14. Those pilots included Mark Schaden, an aspiring webmaster who created an online resource for his fellow pilots.
Schaden, 36, from Middlefield, Ohio, and his good friend John P. “Jack” Plavcan, 55, of Newbury, Ohio, were visiting friends that day. They had left from Geauga County Airport around noon and flew to Carol County, stopping by Portage County Airport to visit a friend. They were returning to Geauga County Airport in Plavcan’s Lancair 235 when the accident occurred. About 2 p.m., on Friday, October 14, the plane collided over Rootstown Township with a Cessna 172 occupied by flight student Christopher Erdovegi, 19, and instructor Alan Lyons, 38.
Schaden was well-known in aviation circles as the webmaster of Flightinfo.com, a comprehensive online resource with links and an active community of aviators who communicate through an online forum known as “The Hangar.” Mark Schaden co-owned the site with his brother Michael.
“Here was a guy who created something about what he loved and built a resource for his fellow pilots,” reads one message on the forum. “He was passionate about flying, which made him a pleasure to do business with.”
Ken Schaden said his son wasn’t always passionate about aviation.
“Most people say that they wanted to become a pilot since they were born,” he said. “But Mark wasn’t like that. He didn’t really get into flying until his junior year in high school.”
In fact, Schaden, born March 7, 1969, tried to give up flying to take care of his father when he fell ill during his first year in college. Over his protests, Ken and Margaret Schaden, who run the End of the Commons General Store in Mesopotamia, Ohio, sent him on to the flight program at Hesston College, Kansas, where he graduated in 1992. He later went on to qualify as a pilot and flight instructor.
In addition to his work on the website, Schaden, who had three children with his wife, Jennifer, was employed as a Lear 31A pilot for Jim Brown, the owner of Classic Motor Cars in Mentor, Ohio. Schaden had also built a 1940s-era Commonwealth Skyranger.
“He loved everything about flying, just to be able to understand everything about the engine and understand what made it fly,” said his father.
Friends said Schaden and Plavcan loved flying so much that they would fly miles out of their way just to get lunch.
“We joke about these guys and their hundred-dollar hamburgers,” said Patty Fulop, airport manager. “By the time they would fly to wherever, make the return flight and account for fuel and all, it would have cost them about a hundred bucks but that’s how much they loved to fly–anything to get to fly a little.”
Ken Schaden was deeply touched by the impact that his son had on his fellow aviators. The visiting hours for Mark Schaden had to be doubled to allow for all those who wanted to pay their respect.
“I just never realized how many people he had touched,” he said. “Everywhere we turn, we see his influence.”
Mark Schaden’s brother, Peter, one of four surviving siblings, took the time to write to his fellow aviators on the Flightinfo.com board.
“For me, just the thought of so many people taking time out of their day and writing a little thought or memory about him showed me that he was a great guy and that he will be missed by everyone, even those who didn’t know him personally,” he said.
Plavcan and Schaden were both members of the local chapter of the Experimental Aircraft Association. Plavcan had built the Lancair 235 they were flying, which won the Outstanding Workmanship Award at EAA AirVenture in 2002.
“He was well qualified and well certified,” said Wayne Link, the director of the local chapter for EAA. “He had awards for his plane.”
Plavcan moved to Newbury 30 years ago. A machinist for the City of Cleveland’s water department, he was a U.S. Army veteran of Vietnam, and a member the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, American Rifle Association and Disabled American Veterans.
Alan Lyons, from Alliance, Kansas, had joined American Winds Flight Academy just months ago after moving to the area from North Carolina. He had retired from the U.S. Marine Corps to move his wife and three children closer to the Akron area, where Mrs. Lyons has family. He was well known in the community for helping out with his daughters’ school activities, soccer games and Girl Scout troop.
Christopher Erdovegi was enrolled as a sophomore at Kent State University, where he was studying aeronautical engineering. Growing up, he played hockey and earned Eagle Scout honors. Inspired by air shows in Cleveland, he started flying after graduating from high school in 2004, logging about 80 hours. He had earned his private pilot license in August and was scheduled the day of the crash for instrument training with American Winds. The young aviator hoped to become a commercial pilot.
“He was a one-of-a-kind kid,” said his father, John Erdovegi.
The National Transportation Safety Board will examine the crash, which occurred in hazy conditions near a VOR beacon about 20 miles east of Akron Fulton International Airport, in an area used by American Winds as a training area.