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UPDATE: Longtime SCV resident, Man of the Year, dies in plane crash

Posted: July 6, 2012 10:07 a.m.
Updated: July 6, 2012 8:00 p.m.

Harry Bell, as he accepted the 2011 Santa Clarita Valley Man of The Year Award at the Hyatt Regency Valencia on May 6th, 2011

 

 

Harry Allen Bell, a longtime resident who established two businesses in the Santa Clarita Valley and was named Man of the Year for 2011, has died in a plane crash. He was 89.

Bell, a Newhall resident, died Thursday when his ultralight aircraft crashed just off Highway 126 between Castaic Junction and Fillmore.

Another man, Michael Boolen, 59, of Pacoima, was also killed in the crash.

A former Realtor and engineer, Bell died when his single-engine Ultralight Sting Sport aircraft went down, said Armando Chavez, senior deputy medical examiner for the Ventura County coroner’s office.

Bell, named Santa Clarita Valley Man of the Year for 2011, served on the formation committee for the Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital and was a volunteer pilot, flying burn victims and doctors to and from Mexico with Shriners Hospitals for Children, according to the SCV Man and Woman of the Year website.

Bell planned to sell his ultralight aircraft and was taking it out for a final inspection flight when he crashed it, said Ed Bolden, Bell’s longtime friend and former business partner.

The plane left from Whiteman Airport in Pacoima on Thursday and crashed two miles east of Piru at 1:25 p.m. Thursday near Rancho Camulos.

“He was serious about flying and not taking chances,” Bolden said. “He was not a rebel.”

The National Transportation Safety Board and Federal Aviation Administration were investigating the cause of the crash.

“He loved flying, and if you have to die, then what better way to die that doing what you love,” said Linda Pederson, a member of the Santa Clarita Valley Rotary Club. Bell, she said, was the backbone of the club.

“As a kid on a farm in Michigan, he would see airplanes in the sky and say, ‘Some day I’ll be flying one of those,’” said fellow Rotarian Greg Nutter, adding that Bell and he would sometimes fly together before Rotary meetings.

Bell joined the Army Air Corps and served in both World War II and the Korean War. He enlisted shortly after the Pearl Harbor bombing and flew 50 missions over Europe.

“Usually they won’t call you back after 25 missions, but he did 50,” said Jim Lentini, a fellow Rotary Club and Elks Lodge member.

After his stint in the Army, Bell earned a civil engineering degree at Central Michigan College and then worked for 15 years as an engineer for the office of the Los Angeles County Engineer.

After that he started a private engineering company with Bolden and then founded Century 21 Bell Realty.

Bolden said he and Bell traveled to air shows and Rotary conventions and enjoyed drinking gin and playing nine holes of golf before work.

“He beat the socks off me when we played golf,” Bolden said.

Betti Sowers, who attended First Presbyterian Church in Newhall with Bell, said she last saw him at the Fourth of July pancake breakfast before the annual parade — which Bell rode in every year in his red convertible Ford Mustang.

She recalled the time he invited her to go flying on a Sunday morning, but she protested, saying she couldn’t miss Sunday services.

“My husband came back from Rotary Club with a note written (by the pastor) on a napkin saying I was excused from church,” she said.

Services for Bell were pending. He leaves behind two adult children.

 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

 

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