Pilot Al Allen remembers when James Wayne Major Jr. joined the dozen or so close-knit pilots at the Conway-Horry County Airport.
Allen remembers watching the 39-year-old Conway man earn his private pilot, high performance, multi-engine and instrument licenses within the last two years.
“He enjoyed it very much so,” he said of Major’s love for flying. “I think he had a lot of fun.”
Major was piloting his Beech D55 twin engine Saturday when it crashed into a utility pole above WoodCreek at Conway subdivision. Major died, along with student-pilot Kenneth James Piuma, 42, Myrtle Beach, and Donald Dale Becker, 16.
“It’s sad to hear,” Allen said, noting calls were being made among pilots within 20 minutes of the Saturday afternoon crash. “It shook my heart because I knew James. He was a nice guy. He was a good guy.”
The plane was removed over the weekend and taken to a salvage facility for investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board to continue their investigation, an official with the NTSB has said. It will take about 10 days before a preliminary report is available and then six to nine months for a factual report and up to a year before a probable cause and final report are released, according to the NTSB.
Services for Major will be at 2 p.m. today at Goldfinch Funeral Chapel. Services for Piuma will be at 11 a.m. Thursday at Goldfinch Funeral Home, Beach Chapel. A memorial service for Becker will be at 5 p.m. Thursday at St. James High School.
Major held a private pilot certification that was reissued May 24 with ratings for single-engine and multi-engine planes as well as instrument airplanes, according to records with the Federal Aviation Administration.
Allen is an experienced pilot – sometimes flying as low as 6 feet off the ground at 150 mph, weaving under power lines at times. He said even the most experienced pilots find it difficult to speculate what happened in the crash without being a part of the investigation. Pilots at the airport believe circumstances make it sound like a mechanical issue with possible engine loss.
“Every situation will always be different and very unique,” he said.
The Beech D55 twin engine has a pretty good safety record, Allen said, and it is one of the more popular light twin-engine planes to fly. He said operating the plane is not as complex as other planes.
Allen is an agriculture pilot and spends a lot of time at the airport at dawn and before dusk when he sprays neighborhoods for mosquitoes. He said he saw Major often at the airport.
“He would actually spend a lot of time on his airplane from the average so-called private pilot,” Allen said. “He was definitely acclimated probably a whole lot more than some.”
Major was technically inclined, as well, Allen said. Major owned LowCountry Machine, LLC, a domestic full-service machining company, doing business as Major Machine Inc. A call to the business Tuesday was not returned.
Allen said it has been past practice to have a memorial service for pilots who die. He said a memorial will be planned at a later date with family members.
Allen said being a pilot is a balancing act of fear and execution, and it takes a passion to not only fly a plane, but own one as well.
“We are willing to balance those risks,” he said. “If you ever have an opportunity to fly... if that bug ever bites you... there’s nothing else that will ever settle your stress like you flying your own aircraft.”