A well-loved pilot and pastor who founded an Arlington flight school for missionaries has died in a plane crash near a fly-in event in Oshkosh, Wis.
Michael J. Crowell, 48, died when the 2005 Sportsman 2+2 Glasair plane he was flying crashed and caught fire about 9:30 a.m. Wednesday at Wautoma Municipal Airport, Waushara County Sheriff David Peterson said Thursday.
Crowell was alone in the plane and died in a field next to the runway, Peterson said. The cause of the crash is being investigated.
Crowell was remembered by family, friends and students as a fun-loving, gifted teacher and dedicated Lutheran minister who often opened his home to students who needed a place to stay.
“He’s a person that lives to see others succeed,” said his wife, Lori Crowell, 49. “God has gifted him with the gift of teaching.”
When they were married in 1978, Michael Crowell asked his bride what she thought about mission work.
“I said, ‘I can’t speak a language,’ ” Lori Crowell said. “And he says, ‘Neither can I.’ “
Instead, he enrolled in a seminary and was sent to be pastor of a church in Wichita Falls, Texas.
Later, during the Persian Gulf War, he volunteered as an Army chaplain.
In 1994, after his military service, the Crowells moved to Lake Stevens, where Michael Crowell became pastor of Elim Lutheran Church.
Four years later, her husband again felt called to do mission work, Lori Crowell said.
The mission was unusual: He wanted to start a flight school for missionaries at Arlington Airport.
“I kind of thought he was crazy,” Lori Crowell said. It meant “living as missionaries do, living by faith, off of donations.”
Unlike many missionaries living in poor countries, the Crowells would have to make a living in the United States, working as a nonprofit in the spendy field of aviation.
Despite her initial doubts, the Mission Aviation Training Academy is going strong, thanks mostly to steady donations of planes, instructors and money. Discounted tuition covers the rest – about 25 percent of the academy’s $300,000 annual budget.
Lori Crowell speaks fondly of the close affiliation the school has with the Arlington-based Glasair Corp., which manufactures the kits that pilots use to build their own planes.
The company donated a $95,000 GlaStar plane to the school, and many academy students have worked at Glasair.
She said the irony that her husband died in a Glasair plane has not shaken her faith in the company. She said she actually felt comforted that many of the school’s students helped build the plane Michael Crowell was flying.
“I had confidence that he was flying this plane because the company had built it themselves,” Lori Crowell said.
She said she always knew this was a possible ending.
“Michael told me, ‘Lori, if I ever die in an airplane crash’ – he said it to me over and over again – ‘just know that I died happy.’ “
Besides the strong impression he left on others during more than 6,000 hours in the cockpit, Crowell leaves behind many who knew him as a pastor.
The Rev. Rick Long of Atonement Free Lutheran Church in Arlington knew Crowell when he was pastor in Lake Stevens and more recently when Crowell was Long’s associate pastor.
“I find this with so many pilots, he was very calm and level-headed, a man of strong convictions,” Long said.
People loved his direct preaching style.
“One lady said, ‘It’s just like he’s speaking right to me,’ ” Long said.
Dary Finck, 23, an academy student, described Crowell as generous, not only with discounted tuition, but with spare beds.
“I remember living with him, there’d be people you had no idea who they were sleeping in the next bed beside you. They’d say, ‘Mike just offered me a place.’ “
In addition to his wife, Crowell is survived by son Jeremy, 24, daughter Melissa Herbst, 22, and son Adrian, 15.
A public memorial service has been scheduled for 3 p.m. Sunday at Smokey Point Community Church, 17721 Smokey Point Blvd.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. Reporter Scott Morris: 425-339-3292 or firstname.lastname@example.org.