MODESTO (CBS13) — The man killed in a fiery crash at the Oakdale Airport Saturday morning was an experienced pilot who had flown for more than 50 years.
Leon Schaffer, 78, of Modesto, was the only person onboard the single-engine plane when it came crashing down onto his pickup truck parked in front of his hangar.
“He touched all our lives deeply, he was a good man, couldn’t ask for a better friend,” said fellow pilot Dennis Bailey.
Bailey says it’s been a difficult last few days at the Oakdale Airport, and that Schaffer was well loved and respected among the aviation community.
“It’s gonna be a loss that is far beyond the airport, we’ve all had a rough week,” he said.
Schaffer had well over 10,000 flight hours logged and he used to be a certified flight instructor at the Modesto Airport. He also loved introducing kids to aviation through the ” Young Eagles program.”
“He loved it as much as the kids did and I never saw him come back without a kid that was smiling from ear to ear,” said Bailey.
One 10-year-old aspiring pilot says he’s heartbroken and remembers Schaffer teaching him about the maintenance of a plane.
“He was really nice. He Liked to teach people about flying…he’s pretty much the best person to teach me everything so clearly,” said Trevor.
Schaffer’s daughter says her father moved around a lot as he was growing up but spent most of his life in Modesto. He had created a career as a floor coverings installer but his passion was in the sky.
“It gave him freedom, it was also something he could do that no one else could,” said daughter Deb Flewelling.
Flewelling says her father was always trying to help somebody and placed a big value on family.
“He has 7 children, 1 passed away, 25 grandchildren, 16 great-grandchildren, with a few more on the way,” she said.
And when he wasn’t flying, twice a week Schaffer would go teach adults how to read and write at the Stanislaus Literacy center as just another way he loved to give back.
“He loved life, loved kids, loved what he did out here, loved what he did in the community,” said Bailey.
Witnesses on Saturday told authorities that they heard the engine sputtering, and believe something went wrong mechanically.
Meanwhile, the NTSB is investigating. A preliminary report is expected next week, but a complete report may take 12-18 months.