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Former Shuttle Commander Killed in Crash of Small Plane

March 23, 1996

DULUTH, Minn. (AP) _ The astronaut who commanded one of the last successful flights of space shuttle Challenger died Friday when a small plane he was test flying went into a spin and crashed.

Col. Robert Overmyer, 59, was wearing a parachute, but couldn’t manage to free himself from the plane, according to Carolyn, one of his daughters.

``He was doing full-flap stalls at 8,000 feet and the plane turned over and went into a spin. He had the door open and was trying to get out and couldn’t get out in time,″ she said from her parents home in Nassau Bay, Texas.

Overmyer left behind a wife, Katherine, and three children. But he died doing what he loved, said his daughter, Carolyn Overmyer.

``Being a test pilot, he knows the risks. But that was the love of his life,″ she said.

Overmyer was testing the small-engine VK30 prototype plane for the manufacturer, Cirrus Design Corporation, when it went down near Duluth International Airport at 12:30 p.m.

Cirrus, which has a base in Duluth, and hired him last year as a test pilot.

The crash site was sealed off while Federal Aviation Administration tried to recover the plane’s flight recorder and begin their investigation.

Chris Maddy, a spokesman for Cirrus Design, praised Overmyer’s skills in an interview with KDAL Radio in Duluth.

``He had over 8,000 hours in the air _ 6,000 of high-performance jets. He’s been up in space twice. He’s certainly a very skilled pilot and we probably couldn’t have gotten anybody better to do the job,″ Maddy said.

``He got to know the engineers and technicians very well. That’s why it’s such a tragic loss for us, because it’s not just someone who happened to be associated with the company. He was literally family.″

Overmyer, born in Lorain, Ohio, joined the U.S. Marine Corps in 1958. He got a graduate degree in aeronautics and was chosen as an astronaut for the Air Force Manned Orbiting Laboratory Program in 1966. The program was cancelled in 1969.

He was chosen as a NASA astronaut in 1969 and worked on the Skylab Program until 1971. He then was a support crew member for Apollo 17. From 1973 to 1975 he was a support crew member for the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project. In 1976, Overmyer began working with the Space Shuttle program. He was the pilot of the STS-5, the first fully operational flight of the Shuttle Transportation System, which launched Nov. 11, 1982.

Overmyer commanded the Challenger mission that flew April 29-May 6, 1985. The challenger flew two more times before it exploded Jan. 28, 1986. Overmyer also served on the commission that investigated that tragedy.

Johnson Space Center director George Abbey said Overmyer ``will be sorely missed by his many longtime colleagues and friends at NASA and in the aerospace community.″

After leaving NASA, Overmyer was director of operations at McDonnell Douglas. He left the company last year, said business development director Mike Collins, who talked with Overmyer last month.

``He sounded great,″ Collins said. ``He said he had this great job testing planes and he was writing a book. He just liked to write about flying.

``He loved to do trick flights. He would go up and do maneuvers and fly over houses and things. He used to try to get me to go up there with him.″

Overmyer is survived by his wife, Katherine; daughters Carolyn Overmyer of Clear Lake, Texas, and Patricia Armstrong of Woodland, Texas; and son Robert of Manhattan Beach, Calif.

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