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Fatal flight was pilot review

Funeral for 2011 SCV Man of the Year scheduled for Saturday afternoon

Posted: July 9, 2012 1:30 a.m.
Updated: July 9, 2012 1:30 a.m.
 

Plane crash victim Harry Bell — war hero, veteran pilot and last year’s Man of the Year in the Santa Clarita Valley — was taking his biennial flight review the day his plane crashed, according to one local pilot.

At 89-years-old, Bell showed up at the Whiteman Airport in Pacoima ready to take his biennial flight review with veteran flight instructor Michael Boolen, 59, of Pacoima.

Both men died Thursday when the aircraft crashed just off Highway 126 between Castaic Junction and Fillmore.

A week before the crash, Boolen talked with local pilot John Milek in the hanger at Whiteman Airport.

“I was in the hanger and Mike tells me ‘I’m taking old Harry Bell up for his biennial’ next week,” Milek told The Signal on Sunday.

All pilots are required by the United States Federal Aviation Administration to take a periodic flight review called a biennial flight review.

It consists of an hour on the ground going over instruction and an hour in-flight with a certified flight instructor — in Bell’s case, Mike Boolen.

Bell had also planned to sell his Lite Sport aircraft and was taking it out for a final inspection flight when he crashed it, Bell’s longtime friend and former business partner, Ed Bolden, told The Signal.

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

Crash investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board and Federal Aviation Administration who scoured the crash scene for evidence have kept their findings to themselves, said Bell’s son-in-law Ed Austin.

“They haven’t told us anything,” Austin said.

The wartime flying legacy of Harry Allen Bell is well-known around the Pacoima airport, Milek said.

“He was a nose gunner and he flew (50) missions in the Second World War,” he said.

A funeral service is scheduled for Bell on Saturday at Eternal Valley Memorial Park on Sierra Highway, beginning at 1:30 p.m.

Bell’s relatives are welcoming friends to drop by Bell’s home on Arcadia Street in Newhall, Austin said, after the service to share stories about one of the Santa Clarita Valley’s legendary characters.

Writers contributing to the SCV History website have already updated Bell’s biography with details and photographs of Thursday’s crash.

Bell’s passion about flying is documented by the website in Bell’s own words.

According to historians maintaining the site, Bell said: “From briefing to breakfast, then to a bin where we kept our sheepskins, our parachutes and our flak suits. And then on to our B-24. Pre-flight, takeoff, form up, and climb to 40 below zero, usually about 23,000 feet. We would level off at the assigned altitude following our lead plane. Now it becomes real fun! Oxygen mask on, icicles on your chin, open gun-port windows, nice 140 mph breeze, throat mike, and COLD!”

Harry Allen Bell was born July 2, 1923, and joined the Army Air Corps shortly after graduating high school in 1938, serving in both World War II and the Korean War.

Bell later earned a civil engineering degree at Central Michigan College and then worked for 15 years as an engineer for the Los Angeles County Engineer’s Office.

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

He served as president of the Real Estate Board twice and was twice named a Realtor of the Year.

jholt@the-signal.com

661-287-5527

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