Aviator Pam Bird killed in plane crash

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In a photo taken by a Bird Aviation Museum and Invention Center staff member, Pam Bird and Tookie Hensley in the front seats, and Don Hensley in the back seat smile shortly before taking off Thursday morning. The trio was killed when the plane crashed a short time later.

SANDPOINT — Dr. Pamela Riddle Bird and two of her close friends were killed in a plane crash in the Cabinet Mountains near Hope on Thursday.

Bonner County Sheriff Daryl Wheeler confirmed on Friday that the trio departed the Bird Aviation Museum & Invention Center at Glengary Bay in a Cessna 182 at 8:16 a.m. Exactly 10 minutes later, the U.S. Air Force Rescue Coordination Center at Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida notified the sheriff's office that it had received a signal from an emergency locator beacon in Bonner County.

A Civil Air Patrol airplane was scrambled and located the downed Cessna in rugged terrain on the flank of Round Top Mountain using the coordinates provided by the rescue coordination center.

Wheeler said choppers Air-1 Sandpoint Helicopters and 2 Bear Air in Whitefish, Mont., assisted in the search for the downed Cessna.

"It was just a devastating crash site," Wheeler said.

Two people were found dead in the plane's front seats, but a third person remained unaccounted for.

The remains in the aircraft were unrecognizable, although they're suspected of being those of Bird and Tookie Hensley, Wheeler said. Thorough ground searches for Don Hensley yielded nothing.

Wheeler said Don Hensley's body may be covered by the wreckage, which was still smoldering as of late Friday afternoon.

"It's still burning. It's in such a remote area that fire resources aren't able to reach that location," said Wheeler, adding that the crash site is still being monitored.

A chopper from Eagle Helicopters in Spokane flew detectives, the coroner and a Federal Aviation Administration official to the 6,149-foot summit of Round Top on Friday.

Priest Lake Search & Rescue is slated to resume the search for Don Hensley today. Wheeler said searchers will ascend the mountain in the event that Don Hensley began making his way down the mountain after the crash.

It's believed Bird was at the controls because she was in the left front seat when the Cessna lifted off in Sagle. However, Wheeler and Civil Air Patrol Capt. Tony Woltz said, the plane could also be controlled from the right front seat, where Tookie Hensley was reportedly seated when they took off.

A report from the rescue coordination center indicated that the plane was flying 71 feet above the ground and traveling at 47 knots, which equates to approximately 54 mph, immediately prior to the crash.

Woltz said Bird's Cessna was fitted with a 406 megahertz beacon, which can be received by satellites.

"We suspect that this one was probably damaged in the crash because there was only one transmission that happened. After that, the emergency transmitter went dead," Woltz said.

As of Friday, there was no known radio communication from the plane.

"At this point, we don't have any indication that there was any mayday (call) or that they were reporting any problems with the plane," Wheeler said.

The flight plan, according to sheriff's officials, involved flying to Minot, N.D.; Bar Harbor, Maine; and Gainesville, Fla.

Bird was 58, according to the sheriff's office. Tookie Hensley and Don Hensley were 80 and 84, respectively. Tookie Hensley operated Tookie's Flying Service in Bullhead City, Ariz.

Tookie Hensley was an aviation mentor to Pam Bird and the two partnered for the cross-country Air Race Classic in 2014.

Pam Bird was married to Dr. Forrest Morton Bird, an aviator, biomedical engineer and inventor credited with revolutionizing chronic cardiopulmonary care with mechanical ventilators. Forrest Bird died on Aug. 2 at the age of 94.

At the request of the local aviation community, Bonner County commissioners honored Bird by bestowing the honorary title of Forrest M. Bird Field to Sandpoint Airport on Sept. 29.

Pam Bird was an accomplished aviator and inventor in her own right. She founded Innovative Product Technologies and authored the best-selling book, "Inventing for Dummies." She also cofounded the Bird Museum.

Officials from the National Traffic Safety Board were expected to arrive in Sandpoint on Friday to begin their investigation.

"Our hearts and our prayers go out to the families of all those associated with this very unfortunate accident," Wheeler said.

Pam Bird hugs her granddaughters Julianna, 4; Autumn, 2; and Loralye, 6 weeks.


This aerial image shows the crash site on Round Top Mountain near Hope. Dr. Pam Riddle Bird, and Tookie and Don Hensley were killed in the crash.

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