Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Kevin Copeland: Aerobatic pilot dies in motorcycle crash

TRAVERSE CITY — Being an aunt to an aerobatic pilot who maneuvered his airplane into dramatic stunts at air shows was not easy for Judy Tabaczka.

Tabaczka, of Manistee, recalled how she would hold her breath from the time her nephew Kevin Copeland took off in his white stunt plane until it landed safely after executing a series of heart-stopping twists, turns and drops. Copeland's routine became a staple at shows statewide, including the National Cherry Festival.

But she said it appears her nephew was safer soaring above the clouds than driving the roads atop his motorcycle.

Copeland, 29, of Williamsburg, and his passenger and friend Erica McCurry, 24, of Clinton, both died Sunday after the motorcycle they rode was caught up in a chain-reaction crash near Alden.

Antrim County sheriff’s deputies said Hailey Patterson, 22, of Williamsburg stopped her vehicle at about 3:07 p.m. to turn left into Helena Township Park. The Oldsmobile SUV was struck from behind by a 2007 Ford Explorer driven by Brian Koppe, 39, of Bellaire, rolling Patterson’s vehicle onto its side and into the opposing lane.

That's when Copeland's 2001 Suzuki motorcycle struck the flipped vehicle. Copeland and McCurry both wore helmets. They were pronounced dead at the scene.

“He was a wonderful guy,” Tabaczka said. “It’s a terrible loss.”

Copeland grew up around aviation. His dad is a pilot and began taking Kevin to air shows when he was old enough to walk, Tabaczka said.

It's from that early experience that Copeland's love for aviation and the freedom and views of beautiful vistas that flight brought sprouted, she said. Copeland worked on planes with his dad and even built a plane.

Eventually Copeland, an Elk Rapids High School graduate, attended the Northwestern Michigan College aviation program. He completed the coursework and became an aviation instructor before his interest in aerobatics took root, said National Cherry Festival Air Show Director Steve Plamondon.

Plamondon said he and Copeland became well acquainted through their time at the air show during the past five years. Copeland performed for each show during that time and possibly longer, Plamondon said.

“He was a very proficient pilot, a very safe pilot, very conscientious and very, very good to work with,” Plamondon said.

Copeland and his stunt plane provided some of the entertainment at the Wings Over Northern Michigan — formerly Wings Over Gaylord — air shows at the Gaylord Regional Airport.

Matt Barresi, air show coordinator and airport manager, said Copeland performed at least twice and was eager to help in any way he could, even when he did not perform.

The two met occasionally to talk about upcoming shows and Copeland would suggest ideas to fill or adjust flight lineups and recommend other elements on the ground to make the air show a more enjoyable experience for spectators.

“He was the easiest performer to work with and deal with,” Barresi said. “He seemed more interested in the success of the show.”

Barresi said Copeland, whose talent at the controls of an airplane was known statewide, will be missed by many.

Plamondon sent a flurry of text messages and emails to pilots and others tied to the Cherry Festival air show alerting them of the sad news. Nearly everyone reflected on how nice of a person Copeland was, recalling his love for aviation and the smile that never seemed to leave his face, he said.

“He was such a quality individual that will be dearly missed by everyone, not just the air show community,” Plamondon said.

Story and video ► http://www.record-eagle.com

Two people were killed in an Antrim County chain reaction crash Sunday. One of them was a local pilot.

Kevin Copeland from Williamsburg and Erica McCurry from Clinton were on a motorcycle when they crashed into an SUV that was on its side from a crash moments before.

The sheriff's office says the SUV was traveling northbound on East Torch Lake Drive near Walling Road trying to make a left.

The driver of another SUV behind her wasn't able to stop and hit her SUV, rolling it on its side into southbound traffic.

Copeland was driving the motorcycle that hit it.

He was an NMC Aviation Graduate and well-liked instructor.

Copeland also took to the skies as part of the National Cherry Festival Air Show for the past five years.

NMC Aviation Director Alex Bloye reflects back to when he heard about the accident, “I was shocked, he's so young and just had so much to look forward to. It's one of those things that takes a little bit to process. We were all pretty shocked, he was a pillar of our community a very well respected.”

The Antrim County Sheriff says the information they collect will be forwarded to the prosecutor’s office.

Story and video ► http://www.9and10news.com

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