No. 4: Aviation center takes flight after tragedy
Editor's Note: This is the seventh in a series of 10 stories counting down The Telegram's top 10 stories of 2011 as chosen by The Telegram staff.
BY RACHAEL GRAY
A celebration was cut short Easter weekend of 2011, when a family of four from Scott City was killed in a plane crash near Topeka.
Dylan and Amy Mitchell Spencer, along with their two daughters, Chase, 7, and Ansley, 5, were killed when the plane Dylan Spencer was piloting crashed for unknown reasons.
The family was on its way to visit relatives in Holton for Easter weekend. The plane missed its first attempt for landing and circled around for a second attempt when it crashed.
The Spencers were well known in the community. Dylan Spencer previously had served on the city commission and was serving as a county commissioner. He owned Spencer Pest Control, was on the Scott City Municipal Airport board and served on the community's economic development board. Amy Spencer was a special education teacher who worked for the High Plains Education Cooperative in Ulysses, and was stationed in Scott City.
Out of the tragedy, friends and fellow pilots including Brian Vulgamore and Andy Hineman dreamed up the Spencer Flight & Education Center at the Scott City Municipal Airport. Ground was broken in October for the center, with completion scheduled for spring 2012.
A five-member board was organized and formed a 501(c) 3 organization, with a mission to actively promote the safety and success of western Kansas pilots and passengers. The group's goal is to provide a local venue for high quality flight instruction, in addition to various educational programs and resources for students of all ages, according to Kira Everhart-Valentin, the project's spokesperson.
Just a week after the accident, $100,000 in pledges were received. Then, 30 days after the accident, the group applied for and received a $108,000 grant through the Kansas Department of Transportation, along with more than $300,000 in private donations that have been collected with the assistance of $179,000 in tax credits awarded by the Kansas Department of Commerce.
The simulator they are going to purchase by the end of the year is the Redbird FMX, which will allow simulation of different conditions.
"I got $120,000 of just out-of-pocket donations in just three or four days. That's how this all got started and the reason I think the tax credit went through — they saw how much support it gained in a little amount of time," Vulgamore said. "And that money didn't just come from Scott County. A lot of pilots around southwest Kansas stepped up."
The SFEC is made up of a committee of about 30 volunteers from throughout the area. The board of directors are: Brian Vulgamore (chair), Andy Hineman (vice-chair), Mike Palen (secretary), Rohn Shellenburger (treasurer) and Daniel Dunn.
"The simulator will have its own separate usage fee which should pretty much pay for the simulator over time, pay for its operation and the facility," Vulgamore said.
With no major airports and few flight instruction schools available in western Kansas, the center will provide a needed service..
"Up here I can tell you in Scott County aviation is a very important part of the community and of everyone's lives," Everhart-Valentin said. "People use it to stay in touch with family that live elsewhere."