(Photo courtesy of Clive Gray)
A former Lancaster County pilot died doing the two things he loved best.
Paul Westlund, a missionary pilot for Wycliffe Bible Translators in Indonesia for 25 years, was killed Thursday when his plane crashed in a remote Papuan jungle, according to the Associated Press.
Westlund, 57, had been making a routine delivery run in a single-engine Pilatus PC-6 when the plane went down in bad weather, Dan Fox of Lititz, a friend of the Westlund family, said Monday. Two Indonesian passengers also were killed, AP reported.
"If he had been in control of his airplane, he would have done what he'd always done and come home at the end of the day," Fox said. "Something took the plane out of his control and plunged it onto that mountain."
Westlund came to Lancaster County from the Chicago area in 1982, moving with his wife — LaVonne, an East Petersburg native — and children to be near his recently widowed father-in-law.
They lived on Spruce Drive, near Manheim, for about five years, Fox said. During that time Westlund worked for Henry Weber Aircraft Services at Lancaster Airport and was a member of Calvary Church.
But Westlund, the son of a West Chicago pastor, felt a calling.
"His faith was a very big part of his life," Fox said. "He wanted to serve God and fly airplanes."
Westlund moved to Indonesia in 1987 to work for Wycliffe Bible Translators. Fox said it was a match made in heaven for the eager pilot.
"He wanted to provide the Bible to people who never had a Bible, who never knew there was a God," Fox said.
"He tried to give them a better life and a hope of heaven at the end. Those people were living in fear of evil spirits."
The remote jungles there have few roads and travel depends on airplanes, Fox said.
Westlund worked with missionaries who were providing a religious and secular education, as well as health care, Fox said.
In addition to distributing Bibles, he carried mail, food and people, and he responded to medical emergencies. He was carrying agricultural supplies on his final flight, Fox said.
The hop from Pagai to Wamena was short, Fox said — about 30 minutes in the air.
"He was almost to his destination," Fox said. "He had flown that route many times over the past 25 years."
There is no air traffic control or radar contact, like in the U.S., Fox said.
"He would have had somebody following him by radio so they would always know where he was," he said.
"He would call in every so many minutes. If he did not call in, they would know something was wrong, and they would know where to look."
His last call to the airport tower was at 1:13 p.m. local time, Fox said. When he missed his next check-in, authorities sent another plane to search for him and natives scrambled to reach him by land from a nearby roadway.
"They found him in short order and were able to land near the crash site," he said.
Within a matter of hours, the three bodies were recovered from the wrecked plane on Yalimo Mountain and flown to the provincial capital, Jayapura, for autopsies, according to VIVAnews.com, an Indonesian news website.
Fox said Westlund's funeral was scheduled for Monday evening in Indonesia.
The cause of the crash has not been determined, although Fox said officials suspect bad weather conditions.
"He had emailed me a week or so ago and said the weather was horrendous out there. Visibility was bad," Fox said.
"They suspect he ran into some nasty conditions, possibly a wind shear," he said. "That would have put the plane totally out of his control. There wasn't anything he could have done."
A team from the Jungle Aviation & Radio Service, a Wycliffe affiliate, is on its way to the site to investigate, Fox said.
"He did not have a heart attack. The autopsy showed it was not a pilot issue," he said.
"They're looking for mechanical failure, although they're fairly certain that wasn't it," he added. "But if there was anything wrong with that airplane, they want to know."
There was another crash in the area earlier this month, when a Cessna 208-B Caravan crashed in the neighboring Yahukimo district, killing two pilots, AP reported.
Manheim native David Clapper died in a plane crash there in August 2008. Clapper was a pilot for Associated Mission Aviation, a Catholic mission organization, according to newspaper records.
Every few years, Fox said, Westlund visited the United States, typically splitting his time between Chicago, where his parents live, and Manheim.
"He would be here anywhere from a month to a year. Then he would be gone again," Fox said.
"He was a wonderful guy who loved to fly. He would rather fly than eat. He always said he wanted to fly until he couldn't fly any more.
"If he had to die, it's probably the way he would have wanted to go."
Fox, who has visited Westlund in Indonesia and flown a few missions with him there, said the two men were born on the same day and shared many interests.
"I feel like I lost a brother," he said.
Besides his wife, Westlund is survived by a daughter, Joy, who attended Lititz Christian School in the mid-1980s, and a son, Mark.