Family Believes Dave Bigelow Blacked Out Before Glider Broke
An attempt at a new altitude record ended
in tragedy last week. David Bigelow, who attempted to reach 40,000
feet in his DG-400 sailplane Friday, was killed when his glider
broke apart in midair.
The Honolulu Advertiser reports Bigelow, a retired Aloha
Airlines pilot, had prepared for months for the record attempt. The
69-year-old pilot had already established state soaring records,
reaching over 33,600 feet on flights last year. Family members say
he meticulously studied air current charts, trying to determine
where he could find the strongest thermals.
Bigelow took off Friday morning from Waimea-Kohala Airport,
according to his son, Dan. What happened next isn't clear just yet,
though Bigelow's family believes the pilot may have suffered oxygen
deprivation at altitude due to equipment failure, after riding a
"big wave" up to as high as FL400.
That scenario offers some comfort to his family. "If he did
black out, I can't think of a better way," Dan Bigelow said. "It's
like he got to 40,000 feet and God said, 'You're close enough so
I'll take you from here.'"
Bigelow's glider descended, apparently out of control, and broke
apart over Mauna Loa. National Park Service rangers found Bigelow's
remains Sunday morning; wreckage from the glider was spread out
over a 10 mile swath.
Dan Bigelow says his father found solace in flying gliders,
after a lifetime of operating much larger -- and louder --
machinery. Bigelow began flying as an Air Force pilot in Vietnam,
before starting his airline career in 1968.
"It's more of an artful type of flying. Once you're released you
have to find your lift," Dan Bigelow said. "The only sound you hear
is the wind through the wings. There's no fuel, no engine, no
noise. He loved it.
"He went up, up, up in the elevator. He was looking for the big