Beaverton Historical Society
Gladwin County Obituary/Death Notice
Joseph Sutherland

Gladwin Pilot Among Five Killed In Jet Crash In North Carolina

   Leroy Sutherland, well known Gladwin pilot and resident, was one of five persons killed instantly Thursday night when the business jet they were riding in exploded in mid-air and crashed in Sanford, N.C. Killed with Sutherland, 58, an executive and company pilot for Champion Home Builders Co. of Dryden, were Henry George, 50, chairmand of the board of Champion, his wife, Effie, 51, Philip Nester Jr., 47, a recently hired assistant to George, of Elkhart, Ind., and Jimmy Taylor, 35, a company pilot, from Flint.

   The company owned 8-passenger Lear jet left the Sanford airport about 8 p.m. and was banking out of the takeoff pattern when an explosion blew the right wing off the plane, according to reports from the area. The plane came around and nose dived into a soybean field about two miles northwest of the airport. The nosecone of the sleck aircraft was pushed into the ground about 6 feet, according to reports. A Highway Patrol Sgt., Harry Jarman, said he watched the plane circle over his home, explode in midair and then explode again on impact.

   "Pieces were all over the sky," said Mrs. Ray Hodges, who grabbed her children and ran outside when she heard the jet screaming toward her home. "It was just raining down fire," she added. A spokesman for Champion Home Builders said the group left Flint aboard the plane Wednesday to visit two plants in Lillington, N.C., near Sanford. The jet left Sanford, located in sparsely populated Lee County in central North Carolina between 8 and 8:30 p.m. Thursday for the return flight to Flint's Bishop Airport.

   Sutherland's wife, Charlotte, was notified shortly after 11 p.m. Thursday of the accident. Friday a five man investigative team from the National Transportation Safety Board began to sift through the scattered wreckage. It is estimated by the Federal Aviation Administration in Raleigh that the investigation will take a week or two to complete.

   George, with a partner, founded Champion Home Builders in 1953 as a mobile home construction firm. The company now has 50 plants in 18 states and employs nearly 5,000 people. Sutherland had been a pilot with the firm for 12 years and also became an executive with the company a few years ago. It was not uncommon for him to be arriving or leavind Gladwin at odd hours to fly company personnel to various parts of the country.

   He began his flying career with the U.S. Army Air Force during World War II. Following his discharge he opened Sutherland Flying Service at the Gladwin airport which he operated until about 1950. He then became the pilot for Robinson Industries and also learned how to fly the company's helicopter. His association with the Champion company began in 1965 and when the company purchased a business jet he became qualified to fly it.

   Sutherland, a lifetime resident of Gladwin, developed and owned Sutherland Trailer Park in Wooden Shoe Village until selling it a few years ago. It is now called Mark Hinter Mobile Home Court. He was in the process of developing another trailer court and marina further north on the east side of Secord Lake.

Personal Information
Death Date
Burial/Final Location
Ridge Cemetery, Gladwin, MI
Cpl. US Army WWII
Publication Information
Pub. Date
Pub. Page
Gladwin County Record, Gladwin, MI
P:1 C:1
Transcription Information
Transcribed by
Source Media
January 2005
Tom Ladner
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