Harry Bell, 2011 SCV Man of the Year
[KHTS] – More than two years after a fatal Piru-area plane crash killed the 2011 SCV Man of the Year and his co-pilot, a federal aviation report shed little light on the circumstances of the incident.
The factual findings, which were released recently on the National Transportation Safety Board website, are expected to be followed within a couple of weeks by a Probable Cause Report, an NTSB official said Tuesday.
The Probable Cause Report is expected to include NTSB investigators’ determination for the cause of the crash.
Harry Bell, 89, and co-pilot, Michael Dwain Boolen, 59, of Pacoima, both died of “blunt force injuries,” according to a report released Thursday in federal officials’ Factual Report.
“Multiple witnesses driving on Highway 126 within the vicinity of the accident site reported observing the accident airplane descending in a nose low attitude while spinning in a counter-clockwise direction before it descended below a tree line,” according to the report.
A federal aviation report detailed the sequence of events and the status of the two men in the cockpit; however, the report fails to identify whether Bell or Boolen was in charge of the aircraft, noting only that both were capable of controlling the craft before its final descent.
The fact-finding reports notes there’s an additional investigation that’s ongoing into the recovered materials, including microscopy and other lab tests.
Co-pilot Michael Boolen
The report doesn’t identify any mechanical concerns with the aircraft based on a National Transportation Safety Bureau investigation.
The two were flying a TL Ultralight SRO Stingsport, a small two-person propeller-driven aircraft in 2012, when it crashed in Piru about 24 minutes after takeoff from Van Nuys.
The crash site is across the street from the Rancho Camulos historic site, about 100 feet from Highway 126.
Friends stated Boolen was working on a flight review for Bell when the two crashed.
Bell held a commercial pilot certificate with approximately 4,000 hours of airtime logged, and the 89-year-old pilot had a history of high blood pressure and coronary artery disease treated with bypass surgery and medications, according to the FAA medical case review.
He had not renewed his medical certificate since it expired Nov. 30, 2006.
Boolen, a flight instructor, reported on his most recent medical certificate application that he had accumulated a total of 13,000 hours of flight time and 200 hours within the previous six months.
Camulos Ranch, July 5, 2012
The airplane had accumulated about one hour of flight time since its annual inspection before its final flight.
The plane had a Galaxy Rescue Parachute System, but the system was reportedly undeployed, according to the report.
“The Galaxy Rescue Parachute System’s handle was found displaced from its respective mount location on the cabin roof structure,” the report stated. “The securing pin was found removed and located within the main wreckage. The handle appeared to have remained within its housing and not actuated.”
Sgt. Eric Buschow of the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department said that members of the sheriff’s bomb squad were sent to the scene to deactivate a small rocket device used to deploy a parachute in the event the aircraft experienced an emergency.
“On these lightweights, a parachute can deploy and slow down the landing if they have an emergency,” Buschow said. “For some reason, they didn’t activate it. We had to deactivate it to remove the danger to our officers and the coroner.”
From a previous story on SCVHistory.com | Leon Worden:
Harry Allen Bell was born July 2, 1923, five years after the end of World War I — “the war to end all wars.” In the United States, the 1920s were a decade of extremes: a new prosperity had swept into some parts of the country prompting novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald to write about America’s growing fascination with flappers, jazz, fancy cars, and airplane barnstorming.
On the darker side, the Harding presidency was rocked by scandal when shady land dealings were exposed in California’s Teapot Dome Scheme; discrimination had risen to a high pitch in Oklahoma prompting the governor to declare war on the terrorist activities carried out by the Ku Klux Klan; and the politically astute were becoming alarmed about the growing unrest in Germany and the rise of a fanatical National Socialist Party leader named Adolf Hitler.
These events were a world away from the small Michigan farm that was tended by Harry’s parents, Harry O. and Thelma Bell. Harry and his sister Ruth, who was born a few years later, not only helped out on their parents’ land, but their grandparents’ as well. In a vivid contrast to the bright, flashing lights of America’s big cities, one of Harry’s chores was to keep the oil lamps lit on his grandparents’ farm because they had no electricity.
File photo: Harry Bell with one of his previous airplanes. That’s Harry, but this isn’t the TL-Ultralight Sting Sport that crashed.
Harry became an engineer on B-24 bombers, completing 50 missions in Europe before being released stateside. On those missions Harry. learned literally to “act on the fly.” One minute he could be top turret gunner, the next he was rushing to patch up enemy fighter and flak damage, and the next, tending to wounded crew members. Staying alive was a big part of every mission.Harry graduated from high school on June 16, 1938. Besides the typical teenage preoccupation with girls and all things mechanical, Harry developed a love of airplanes that would dramatically shape his future. He enrolled in flying school and just naturally assumed that his country would use his skills when he joined the Army Air Corps right after Pearl Harbor was bombed. His bubble was burst when halfway through pilot training, the Army began pulling men out randomly to engage in active combat.
Perhaps nothing can illustrate more clearly the actions of “Our Country’s Greatest Generation” than Harry’s own reminiscing in a World War II publication:
Our bomb group headquarters was in an old winery in Cerignola, Italy where we could watch girls stomp grapes as we were briefed for our missions. We flew our first two missions individually with a seasoned crew. Then we got an old dog of a plane, an olive-drab aircraft. Now the fun began. Up early and down to the Bomb Group headquarters for our briefing as we watched the Italian girls stomp the grapes. I thought about security and wondered if the girls could pass on anything to the enemy.
From briefing to breakfast, then to a bin where we kept our sheepskins, our parachutes and our flak suits. And then on to our B-24. Pre-flight, takeoff, form up, and climb to 40 below zero, usually about 23,000 feet. We would level off at the assigned altitude following our lead plane. Now it becomes real fun! Oxygen mask on, icicles on your chin, open gun-port windows, nice 140 mph breeze, throat mike, and COLD!
Harry returned from the war with seven battle stars and seven air medals. Of the 1,200 airmen in his 757 Air Squadron, only six hundred made it home.
Harry Bell in a Newhall Fourth of July Parade with his prophetic license plate, LO I FLY. He rode in the 2012 parade the day before the crash. A Rotarian as well as a Shriner and Mason, he owns the property at the northeast corner of Main and 5th streets where the Rotary Club holds its annual July 4th pancake breakfasts.
Back on U.S. soil, it was time to put his war experiences behind him. A young woman who caught his eye at a Michigan dance helped him do that when she consented to be his wife several months later. Harry and Barbara Bell were married on Nov. 17, 1945. The young couple set up housekeeping while Harry completed his studies at Central Michigan College, graduating as a civil engineer.
According to Harry, his first “real” job was in a six-man engineering department for the Los Angeles Transit Lines. That led to a 15-year job working as an associate civil engineer with the office of the Los Angeles County Engineer. Harry opened the County Engineering Office in Lancaster and sat on the County Planning Commission as an advisor on grading and drainage.
Barbara and Harry moved to Lancaster where daughter Janet was born in 1955 and son Ken in 1958. Between business and family obligations, Harry kept his love of flying alive purchasing his own private plane to make annual trips back to his Michigan homestead. Through his association with the Los Angeles Shriners, Harry would also use his plane to fly Third World children suffering from severe injuries and birth defects to Children’s Hospital.
In the early 60s, another civil engineer applying for a grading permit walked into Harry’s office. The two began talking business, but soon found a personal connection that led to a life-long friendship. Ed Bolden, SCV’s 1970 Man of the Year, not only became a friend, but a partner as well, in real estate and engineering businesses.
Harry and Barbara moved their family to Saugus in 1965 and Harry immediately became involved in a myriad of organizations that helped shape our valley into the thriving community it is today. A few of his contributions to the development of the SCV include being one of five local realtors who founded the SCV Real Estate Board, serving on the formation committee of Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital, and lobbying to make Castaic Lake a public rather than a private entity.
Harry served as president of the Real Estate Board twice and was named a Realtor of the Year two times. In addition to being a Shriner, he is also a Mason 32nd Degree, a founding member of the local Elks Lodge, and an active member of the SCV Rotary Club for 48 years. Rotary International’s annual conventions gave him and Barbara a chance to visit other countries and meet foreign speaking Rotarians who were also dedicated to the Rotary motto “Service Above Self.” One of Harry’s proudest moments as a Rotarian was welcoming his daughter.