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"Pilot, 84, crashes, walks away, calls it quits"



Tuesday, July 9, 2002

Pilot, 84, crashes, walks away, calls it quits 
By Tom Gibb
The Pittsburgh (PA) Post-Gazette


EBENSBURG, Pa -- He's been flying airplanes for 61 years. In World War
II, as a bomber pilot, he flew 23 missions -- daring, daylight missions
-- over Germany.

He saw a lot of planes badly damaged. He saw his own barraged by flak.

"But we made it home safely," Gerald Barker, a native of Pittsburgh's
Elliott neighborhood, said last night.

And he kept flying. Aviation, Barker said last night, just sort of gets
embedded in a fellow.

Yesterday, though, 84-year-old Gerald Barker might have hung up his
pilot's gear for good.

Barker, now living in Blair County, was on a mountaintop runway at
Ebensburg Municipal Airport in Cambria County, simply taxiing, trying
out the new landing gear on the experimental plane he built seven years
ago. And without warning -- maybe caught by a gust of wind, airport
Manager Val Carmosino guessed -- the plane lifted off, maybe climbing 20
feet before bouncing to the runway again. It rose and fell a second
time.

Then, on a final touchdown, it hit on a patch of grass, rolled through a
ditch and flipped onto its roof, trapping Barker inside for a half-hour
until rescue crews could free him.

The good news: When he was freed, Barker -- by all accounts, robust for
an octogenarian -- was able to walk away with what he listed as "cuts
and scrapes and bruises" but a sense of irony that seemed to have
escaped injury.

"He got out of it and said, 'You can call my wife and tell her she
doesn't have to worry about this plane anymore,' " Carmosino recounted.

The bad news: Carmosino figured the single-engine aircraft was
destroyed. And with it, Barker forecast his career at the controls was
over, too. Not because he lost his aircraft or his interest, but because
he sees the crash as maybe a sign that 80-somethings should consider
when to come down from the wild blue yonder.

"I think at my age, it's time to quit," he said. "I've been very lucky.
... But you come to the point where you make changes."

Barker figures, though, on getting out from behind the controls, not
abandoning aviation. Through a life in which, among other things, he
taught school, farmed trees and lived an active retirement, there was
always flying. And he expects to stay around airports, even now.

"It just sort of gets in your blood," he said.


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