Thanksgiving was a more somber affair for numerous people around River Forest in the wake of news that villagers Geraldine and Frank Richard Meyer III had perished in a small airplane crash the day before. The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the crash of the couples Cessna 310 near Leesburg, Virginia on Nov. 24. The twin-engine aircraft went down about 12:09 p.m. in rainy, overcast weather, some four or five miles short of the Leesburg Executive Airport. Meyer, who was piloting the plane, had spoken with air traffic controllers at the FAA air traffic control facility in Warrenton, Virginia. moments before the crash and had received permission to land. According to some media reports, Meyer, who was qualified for instrument landings, had been given a radar heading and was making a second approach when the plane went down. It came to rest in a small patch of woods some 30 yards from a house.
There had been no indication of trouble.
"He was a very meticulous person and a very careful person," said River Forest Village President Frank Paris, who called Meyer both a friend and valued colleague. Paris said that Meyer, with his MIT degree and 60-plus years as a pilot, was a natural to serve as his alternate on the O'Hare Noise Compatibility Commission. Paris said he greatly valued Meyer's input, saying, "He had some very good ideas."
The Meyers also had many good friends, both in River Forest and Florida, where they had a second home.
Paul Harvey, radio broadcaster and River Forest resident, said he and his wife Angel first met the Meyers at the Oak Park Country Club some 50 years ago, and quickly formed a close bond. Last Friday Harvey, his voice heavy with sadness, admitted that he was still "dumbstruck" at the loss of two people he and Angel counted among their closest friends.
"We were together whenever convenience allowed for meals and conversation," said Harvey. "They were a perfectly nice couple. Each of them was lovelier than the other."
Dr. Leonard Saxon is mourning the loss of both a dear freind and a long time patient. Saxon, who was both Richard and Geraldine Meyers' physician, said their deaths leave a void in his life that will never go away. It was Richard Meyer, Saxon said, who gave the eulogy at his first wife's funeral, and both helped him through that trying time.
Saxon said that he and his second wife, Charlotte, "will miss them forever."
"The pilot of the Cessna did not indicate to the controllers at Potomac any problems as he was making his approach to Leesburg," an FAA spokesman told the Associated Press.
A preliminary investigation was completed by officials of the NTSB last Friday. A final report is expected some time in the next several weeks.
Meyer, 84, was a pilot his entire adult life. According to an article in Florida's News-Press, he had just passed his required biannual flight physical. "He was so excited because he just passed his physical to continue flying," said Michael Timbers, a Florida neighbor. "Flying played a big part of his life. He didn't want to stop," he told the paper.
Richard and Geraldine Meyer?#34;Jerry to her many friends?#34;were married in September 1942 after both graduated from college. By that time Meyer was already a lieutenant in the Army Air Force. He served in World War II, and was discharged with the rank of captain. Richard Meyer went on to success as an engineer, and sat on the board of directors of Standard Oil, among other companies. He also served on the Board of Regents of M.I.T., and was an honored member of the alumni association who served on the school's Corporation Development Committee, which directed fund raising efforts. Geraldine, 83, was also accomplished, working with her husband on many other fund raising projects. She was particularly committed to Rush Presbyterian St. Luke Medical Center, where she served as president of its Women's Board, and was a lifetime trustee.
The Meyers have three grown children, Dr. Charles Meyer of Florida, John Meyer of Carmel, California, and Susan Perry of McLean, Virginia. According to an FAA spokesman, the couple were flying from Naples, Fla. to visit Susan and her family in McLean.
An AP photo published in the Chicago Tribune showed the plane resting amidst tree branches in a fog shrouded field. The fuselage near the plane's tail appears to have been scorched, possibly indicating a fire. Richard Powell, who is both a retired River Forest Fire Department lieutenant and a licensed pilot, called the Cessna 310 "a very reliable aircraft." He didn't want to speculate on the cause of the crash prior to a complete NTSB investigation. However he did say that evidence of fire damage to the craft in the photo suggested that Meyer may not have been able to react to whatever situation confronted him during the approach.
"If you know you're going down, you turn your fuel selectors off and turn your electric off to avoid or lessen the chances of a post crash fire," said Powell.
Other media reports speculated that Meyer had been trying to steer the aircraft clear of inhabited areas. In any event, those who knew Meyer said that pilot error was an unlikely cause with him at the controls.
"He was a very conscientious flier," said Dick Ver Halen, a friend and engineering colleague who, like the Harveys, first met the couple at the Oak Park Country Club in the 1960s, and who had flown with Meyer on numerous occasions. VerHalen said that Meyer was meticulous with all things mechanical, his air craft in particular.
"He took a great deal of pride in his aircraft," said Ver Halen. "Kept it in absolutely top shape."
VerHalen said that being in the couple's presence was an inspiration, and that it was a pleasure to watch the unabashed ways in which they showed affection for each other.
"There was a great deal of respect and kindness," VerHalen said. "It was a beautiful thing to see."
Like VerHalen, Harvey also expressed a deep admiration for Richard Meyer's intellect and depth of scientific knowledge.
"He counseled me on many broadcasts over the years," Harvey said. "Whenever there was a new development in physics, chemistry or electronics, Dick Meyer was one of the first people I'd call for his opinion."
Often times, Harvey said, Meyer would caution him to avoid jumping to conclusions, and to withhold public judgment until all the facts related to new developments became clearer.
"He saved me a lot of embarrassment over the years," Harvey said.
Harvey said he was haunted by the irony that he had made arrangements three weeks ago for Meyer to test fly a new air craft?#34;the Cirrus SR22?#34;that features a quick release, inbuilt parachute system, the Cirrus Airframe Parachute System, which utilizes a solid-fuel rocket to blow out a top hatch in the fuselage and deploy a large parachute that then safely lowers the plane to earth in the event of emergencies. Meyer, said Harvey, had agreed to the test flight, but hadn't gotten around to it yet.
"He was making arrangements for that test flight," said Harvey quietly.