Pilot killed in Wisconsin air show crash had 'impeccable' record - KMSP-TV

Pilot killed in Wisconsin air show crash had 'impeccable' record

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MENOMONIE, Wis. (KMSP) -

He spent decades piloting everything from F-16s to commercial jets for Delta Airlines. Through it all, he maintained an spotless safety record until a maneuver at a Wisconsin air show went terribly wrong.

Bill Cowden, 47, of Menomonie, Wis., began flying in 1986. He started with F-16s in the U.S. Air Force and eventually flew aerobatic planes to tap into that thrill of flying military jets. Now, his friends are mourning his death after he died in the cockpit of a stunt plane.

"Only a day after the accident -- it's hard to think about why we would want to continue to perform at airshows," announcer Jeff Overby admitted.

Overby told Fox 9 News he couldn't believe his eyes on Sunday afternoon. He was watching his friend of 7 years perform aerial maneuvers in his YAK-55M Russian one-seater when things suddenly took a tragic turn.

"It appeared from the ground that Bill took several turns coming down, which was typical of his move -- but then there was some period of recovery -- but it looked like the ground was much closer than what he'd normally anticipated."

Cowden's plane crashed near the Green Circle Trail in a wooded area 1,000 feet east of the Stevens Point Municipal Airport runway. It's still a shock to the man who knew Cowden as an extremely capable pilot.

"He's been performing airshows for near 10 years," Overby said. "He's a very capable pilot with over 10,000 commercial flight hours."

As a retired Air Force pilot, Cowden also had 15,000 hours of F-16 time under his belt. He leaves behind a wife and an 8-year-old son, Gunner.

Although Overby and others are aware of the risks of flying, he says the loss may make some think twice about returning.

"Right now, there would be some reluctance to get back in the cockpit immediately," he acknowledged. "I'm certain with all pilots, there's a certain characteristic or attitude that allows us to handle these things."

Cowden was a first officer with Delta Airlines and served as an MSP-based pilot for 14 years -- but even his 25 years couldn't keep him clear of the dangers that come with taking to the skies.

"It looked like things were performing and engines were running smoothly," Overby said. "Ran out of altitude."

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