A ride in a glider is exhilarating, wondrous and improbable — people held aloft in winged metal, harnessing the power of air currents to stay up as long as possible before gravity beckons them home.
Don Post loved that feeling so much that he bought Stowe Soaring 14 years ago and loved to help others experience what he had.
Then came last Wednesday, when Post, 70, and his passengers Frank Moroz III, 58, and Suzanne Moroz, 56, of Hamden, Conn. were killed when the glider Post was piloting crashed near the summit of Sterling Mountain in Morristown.
The glider took off at about 11:30 a.m. Aug. 29 from the Morrisville-Stowe State Airport, where the company is based, towed by a single-engine plane that released the glider at an altitude of about 4,500 feet, according to Brian Rayner of the National Transportation Safety Board, which is investigating the crash.
Gliders have no engines.
At about 2 p.m., the glider was reported missing, according to Vermont State Police.
At about 5:30 p.m., a Civil Air Patrol crew was dispatched to try to find the glider. It took about 15 minutes to find the wreckage, about 1,000 feet from the top of Sterling Mountain, according to state police. Sterling is also known as Whiteface Mountain.
Crews converged from the state police, Morristown Police Department, Morristown Fire Department, Vermont Fish & Wildlife, Stowe Mountain Rescue, Colchester Technical Rescue, Waterbury Backcountry Rescue, Huntington Search and Rescue and Richmond Rescue, figuring out how to extricate the remains of the people who’d been on the glider when it crashed.
Stowe Mountain Rescue crews set up camp overnight as they logged miles searching through the brush on Sterling Mountain, trying to find on the ground what had been spotted from the air, said chief Doug Veliko.
It wasn’t an easy search; the first coordinates the crews were given didn’t lead them to the crash site, and a grid search turned up nothing, either.
Climbing a little higher revealed the aircraft, Veliko said.
That night, a team set up camp and prepared to bring the bodies of the crash victims down the slope the next day.
It took a full 12 hours, according to Veliko’s log.
“The 0.4 miles of Long Trail from the summit of Whiteface to Whiteface Lodge is steep, narrow, rocky and technically difficult, requiring lowering systems for the vast majority of its distance,” Veliko wrote in a report.
The aircraft was removed by helicopter, according to Morristown Police Chief Richard Keith.
Investigators from the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board were on hand Thursday, beginning an investigation that Rayner said could take a year.
Autopsies began Friday.
Rayner said meteorologists will study the weather conditions the day of the crash, officials will run toxicology and other tests, and a report will be made to the National Transportation Safety Board.
Keith couldn’t rule out the possibility that Post had a medical crisis in the air, but said it was unlikely.
Post’s death certificate, prepared by the Vermont Chief Medical Examiner’s Office in Burlington, lists the death as an accident, and says Post was killed instantly.
The accident rate for gliders is similar to that for small single-engine airplanes, said Richard Carlson, who works with the Soaring Safety Foundation.
The number of glider crashes has been decreasing almost every year.
Last year, there were 17 glider crashes; the year before, 16.
“For the last two or three years, we’ve had three fatal accidents every year,” Carlson said.
The crash that killed Post and the Moroz couple was the second fatal glider crash this year, Carlson said; the other was in Idaho.
He emphasized that anyone who flies a glider has to pass the same degree of testing as helicopter and single-engine aircraft pilots.
“We all share the same airspace, and we are all trained to the same level and same care by certified flight instructors. The pilot involved in this accident was very experienced. We don’t know what happened,” Carlson said.
He did say that when a glider hits the ground nose-first, as Post’s did, it’s more likely to be fatal.
“If it strikes at a relatively steep nosedive attitude, it’s got a lot of energy. If it strikes at a lower angle, a more glancing blow, then it’s less likely to be fatal.”
Glider pilots are part of “a very small, close-knit community, and so this will deeply impact all of us,” Carlson said.
Postie the pilot
Don Post was “Postie” to those who knew him in town.
He was the cruiser who crisscrossed countless contrails in the sky over Stowe and Morrisville for decades.
He was a devoted husband, father, school board member, youth hockey coach and participant in Stowe’s day-to-day life.
And now, he’s part of Stowe’s elite lineup of legends.
Post bought Stowe Soaring in 2004 from Dave Whitcomb, who founded the business in 1993. The two had met in the late 1980s, after Whitcomb started working at the airport and Post, who owned a plane there, got to know him, as he made a habit of doing.
Whitcomb praised Post’s flying Monday.
“It wasn’t so much of a career for him. He was doing it because he had just an intense passion for all different kinds of flying. He was involved in powered aircraft, he was flying gliders, he was getting into floatplane flying,” Whitcomb said. “Very early on, before I even met him, he was involved in hang gliding. He was what I would describe as a true aviator. He just did it because he loved it, and that was what motivated him.”
Whitcomb was preparing to sell the glider operation after insurance complications made it too expensive to operate.
“I was going to have to shut it down, and he came in and said, ‘I don’t want that to happen,’” Whitcomb said.
“He loved it so much; he said, ‘We can’t let this go.’”
Whitcomb continued to manage Stowe Soaring until 2014, when he left the airport permanently. Then, Post managed it.
The operation included two Schweizer SGS 2-32 gliders, the only model on the market that’s approved to carry three people.
Post was flying the Schweizer SGS 2-32 marked 17970 when it crashed.
The glider crash is baffling to people who knew Post’s prowess as a pilot.
“Safety was absolutely paramount to him. It was No. 1. He was very careful, conservative, and paid great attention to the safety of not only himself, but also to his passengers. That’s what makes this such a mystery,” Whitcomb said.
Whitcomb doesn’t know what will happen to Stowe Soaring without its owner and leader. It has remained closed since the crash.
Chris Curtis, a prominent Stowe artist, was a friend of Post’s for almost 50 years. The pair met skiing, but quickly moved on to hang-gliding.
“I remember lots of hang-gliding with Don. He loved to fly ever since I knew him, even before then, really,” Curtis said.
The two men traveled all over the country to hang-glide, including locations in New Mexico, the Carolinas and Georgia.
“As I look back and think about how he continued to pursue his passion of flight, he probably was more arduous about it than me, and loved it more. But we did a lot of it,” Curtis said.
In fact, on one of those hang-gliding trips, Curtis met his wife.
On another, the two got a little lost.
“One time we flew from a mountain in North Carolina, and we had been directed about how you get to the launch site, but we didn’t know where the landing site was. We ended up flying off into parts unknown. It was a grand adventure to try to figure out. We landed in the back hills and hinterlands of Georgia. People were peering out their windows as we were hiking out,” Curtis said.
“That was quite an adventure. He just loved to fly.”
When Curtis heard about the crash, he was shocked, but since Post spent so much time in the air, it wasn’t surprising.
“My initial thought was, ‘I wonder what happened there? He was very diligent and safety-oriented.’ At the same time, it kind of felt like, you know, that sort of makes sense for Don. It was a weird combination of ‘Oh no,’ and ‘Yeah, well, that kind of adds up.’”
A community fixture
Even outside the airport, Post was passionate about his community.
Post was a member of the Stowe School Board from 1991 to 2014, and Cam Page, who served on the board for some of that time, remembers his commitment to doing what was best for Stowe’s kids.
“While Postie was no fan of governmental intrusion, he did agree that every child in Vermont deserved an equal shot at a quality education no matter what their zip code,” Page said.
“Postie had an invaluable trove of institutional memory,” but he was always open to new ideas, she said.
He was passionate about renewable energy, and was a major proponent behind the push to install a wood pellet system at Stowe High School.
“You would have thought he was showing off a new grandchild” after it was installed, Page said.
“Postie loved to help people, especially kids. It was an instinctive response. ‘What can we do to help?’ was often his question,” she said. “He made sure administrators would contact him if lack of money (was) preventing a child from participating in a school trip, sport or activity.”
Stowe Soaring also focused on helping kids, allowing high school students to work at the airport in exchange for flight hours.
“We started a lot of careers. About 10 people who went through that program went on to very successful aviation careers. I was very proud of that program. For an operation that created so much joy and so many good things in the community, to have something like that happen is just heart-wrenching,” Whitcomb said.
Page says personally, she’s lost a dear friend. The pair would enjoy long conversations while sequestered together working on Stowe School Board projects.
“He was a big kid, with boundless enthusiasm and energy, and the biggest, kindest heart. He loved the Rolling Stones, he was a fantastic dancer — think disco, not ballroom — and he had an unrivaled sweet tooth. He had a blast in his life,” Page said.
Post was also involved with Stowe Youth Hockey for at least a decade, according to George Gay, a past president of the organization who recalled his commitment to the sport fondly.
“I remember Don as a fan, and a volunteer, and a coach, and the thing about Don is he was always there in all three capacities. He was staff, and rooting the team on, and rooting the game on. When anything was needed by youth hockey, like we needed a timekeeper, or we needed someone to organize a road trip or something like that, Postie was always willing to step up,” Gay said.
Gay can recall a time, more than 10 years ago, when a team didn’t have a coach, and Post stepped up at the last minute. That team went on to win the state championships, largely due to Post’s coaching.
“He was everywhere, and always with a smile,” Gay said.
Post was part of the push to build Stowe Arena, and Gay remembered his perseverance there, too. “This guy really gave his all for the community and for his children.”
When Gay learned of Post’s death, “I was really sad, and it struck me in how many ways I was going to miss him. He was somebody that you just always counted on to be a part of what was happening,” he said.
Whitcomb echoed Gay.
“When I found out that they found them and that there were no survivors, I was just absolutely devastated on so many different levels,” he said.
Whitcomb is haunted by the crash, unable to fathom what went wrong.
“I think the weather potentially could have contributed, but the weather wasn’t far off from days that we’d flown thousands of times. I look at the weather that day, and I think there’s nothing that I can see that stands out as something would have contributed to that kind of disaster.
“We’d flown in weather conditions like that thousands of times. It was a hot day, a little bit hazy, a little bit breezy, like every other summer day. … As long as I’ve flown and been involved in this operation, never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined something like this could happen,” he said.
An obituary for Don Post appears above. A celebration of life will be held today, Thursday, Sept. 6 at 2 p.m. at Stowe Community Church.