Michael Kilpatrick spent decades of his life flying.
As a teenager and in his early 20s, Kilpatrick, 62, of New Windsor, began flying hang gliders off of hills in Jefferson, Maryland, his sister Kim Thrasher said.
“He was just always interested in being up in the sky,” she said of her late brother.
Kilpatrick spent 23 years in the Navy where he was a flight engineer on a P3, and in recent years, flew a 2006 Ultralight Quicksilver single engine plane, which his sister described as “basically a motorized hang glider.”
It was while piloting that plane Saturday morning that an incident occurred, and Kilpatrick’s aircraft crashed in a field in Westminster. The incident remains under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board.
The crash killed both him and his passenger, Robert Johnson, 56, of Woodsboro. Both were pronounced dead at the scene after the plane crashed just before 11 a.m. Saturday, according to a news release from Maryland State Police.
Peter Knudson, a spokesman for the NTSB, said Monday morning an investigator was on the scene at 8:30 a.m. Sunday and worked all day to begin trying to piece together what occurred in Saturday’s crash.
Knudson said the investigator was again on the property Monday, and likely would finish up there by Tuesday morning.
The pilot and passenger were the only people on board the single-engine plane, according to the release. The crashed plane was found in an open field near the Baugher’s Orchards and Farm property.
“He died doing what he loved doing,” Thrasher said.
Thrasher said her brother was an “avid flyer” with his ultralights, and was the president of the area’s Ultralight Flyers Association.
Knudson said the NTSB does not yet know what caused the plane to crash. There was some sort of “fly-in breakfast” on Saturday that those in the plane were attending, he said.
Thrasher said Kilpatrick was coming in for a landing when the incident occured. The breakfast was also a sort of airshow, she said, and it was during the event that Kilpatrick was flying, she said.
As Kilpatrick was coming down to land, she said, another plane was coming in and so he pulled up to fly around again. On the second approach, after having just cleared the trees, Thrasher said witnesses “heard a loud bang just as the plane started to plummet.”
Thrasher said it’s unclear whether the plane had a mechanical failure, or whether he was trying to pull his parachute.
“He was extremely experienced” as a pilot, she said, and was an instructor. Kilpatrick knew how to get out of any situation that could happen in the air, she added.
“This had to be [some sort of] catastrophic failure,” she said.
Knudson said the on-scene investigator will be focusing on documenting the crash site and interviewing witnesses, of which there were several. A preliminary report will be out within a week or two of the incident, he added.
The full investigation though, Knudson said, will take much longer. The full report, including the probable cause and contributing factors, will take 12 to 24 months to complete.
Investigators will be looking at all aspects of the incident, including the pilot, the aircraft and the operating environment, he said.
“We start with all possibilities on the table and then we rule things out,” Knudson said.
In addition to flying, Thrasher said her brother was dedicated to his wife of 15 years, Jeanne. While the couple did not have children, Thrasher said Kilpatrick had more than two dozen nieces and nephews, and about a dozen grand nieces and nephews.
“He was always the favorite Uncle Mike,” she said.
Kilpatrick had many hobbies and interests, she said, and people knew him from “all different walks of life.” He was active in his church, St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church in Mount Airy, she added.
Thrasher said Kilpatrick was giving Johnson a ride in his plane when the incident occurred.
Johnson, who was the Maintenance Area Supervisor for Urbana High School in Frederick County, was remembered Monday as “a great guy and a great asset” by Brad Young, the Frederick County Public Schools Board of Education president.
While Young said he knew Johnson from his time in FCPS, the two met more than three decades ago in church at the Evangelical Reformed United Church of Christ. Young said their kids went through Sunday School together.
“I just know he was a highly respected person in our school system,” Young said.
Johnson was always in a good mood with a smile on his face, he added.
“[He was] a person with a big heart,” he said.
Catalina Righter contributed to this story.