TOPEKA — Two men — one of whom was a well-known Topeka physician who also practiced in Garden City — were identified Tuesday as the victims of Monday night’s fatal plane crash near Philip Billard Municipal Airport in northeast Topeka.
William M. Leeds, 61, a Topeka pulmonary doctor who also commuted to Garden City and was the owner/medical director of the sleep disorder center at St Catherine Hospital, was piloting the 1965 Piper PA-30 fixed wing multi-engine airplane when it went down, according to the Kansas Highway Patrol.
The plane’s co-pilot was identified as James K. Bergman, 55, of Leawood. Officials said Bergman was a flight instructor.
Both men were pronounced dead at the scene shortly after the crash was reported at 8:27 p.m. Monday just north of the airport, 3600 N.E. Seward Ave.
According to the KHP, which was among agencies investigating the crash, the small airplane was traveling from southeast to northwest at the time of the crash.
The patrol said the plane appeared to miss the runway, striking the ground at a high rate of speed. The plane “impacted and turned approximately 180 degrees,” coming to rest in a grass field in between the runway and the taxi road to the airport terminal.
The air traffic control tower at the airport was closed at the time of the crash because it was after hours, said Eric Johnson, director of airports for the Metropolitan Topeka Airport Authority.
Planes are still allowed to fly in and out of Billard Airport between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m., but it is considered uncontrolled during those hours, and pilots regulate themselves, Johnson said.
A meteorologist with the Topeka National Weather Service Office, which is located at the airport in northeast Topeka’s Oakland neighborhood, reported hearing a thud Monday evening, went outside to check and discovered a downed airplane.
Leeds, a father of three children, worked out of Pulmonary & Sleep Associates, a practice located at 515 S.W. Horne in Topeka.
Rabbi Debbie Stiel, of Temple Beth Sholom, where Leeds was a member, said Leeds was an experienced pilot. Stiel said Leeds’ death would be a major loss not only to his family, but the entire Topeka community, where he practiced medicine for many years.
“He was just as warm a person as you could imagine,” Stiel said. “He was someone who would give you a big hug, someone who put his patients at ease by taking time to listen to them and doing whatever he could to help.”
Leeds also was the medical director for Washburn University’s respiratory therapy program.
“He touched the lives of so many Washburn University respiratory therapy students,” program director Rusty Taylor said. “Students always felt welcomed by him and often commented on his enthusiasm and wit. He provided so many great opportunities and experiences for our students, both in the hospital and in his clinic."
The Telegram staff contributed to this story.