‘It's Just Surreal': Wife Remembers Man Killed in Midair Plane Crash

A twin-engine Sabreliner and a single-engine Cessna 172 collided Sunday

The pilot of a Cessna killed in a fiery midair collision had a passion for flying and would have been glad to die that way, his wife said Tuesday. 

Michael A. Copeland, 55, of San Diego, was among five people who died in the crash south of San Diego Sunday. Near Brown Field, a twin-engine Sabreliner and a single-engine Cessna 172 collided with such force Sunday morning that the debris from both planes covered at least a mile.

Copeland died of multiple blunt force injuries, the San Diego Medical Examiner's office said. 

"He loved flying," his wife, Kathi, wrote in a Facebook post. "It was his passion. I think he would have been glad to go out this way no matter how tragic. He loved to be up there in the sky."

Kathi told NBC 7 Copeland was practicing "touch and go's" before the incident. She said her husband would always text her when he was done flying, but by 3 p.m. Sunday, she began to worry when she didn't hear from him.

She called the pilot's club, FAA, police and every other agency she could think of. By 8 p.m., she found out he was the one who died in the Cessna. Officials were able to identify him through fingerprints.

The pilot, who worked as a senior manager at Qualcomm, was also a musician and history buff who was working on a World War II documentary. He leaves behind two children and his wife, whom he has been with for 36 years.

"It's just surreal. I reached for the phone to call him today," said Kathi in the post. "I wanted to cry to my mother, but I lost her last year around the same time. I hope they are chatting in heaven with my dad and the rest of my family." 

"Reach out to those you love because they may be gone in a split second," she said to close her post.

Carlos Palos, John Kovach and Jeff Percy were identified Monday as three of the four victims on the Sabrelienr, according to their employer BAE Systems. The fifth victim on the Sabreliner was identified by the medical examiner Wednesday as James Henry Hale, 66, of Adelanto which is near Victorville. Hale was described as a civilian pilot.

NTSB Investigator in Charge Andrew Swick said the Sabreliner was inbound for landing at Brown Field Municipal Airport at the time of the incident.

Wing marks indicate the two planes may have collided at the wing, Swick said.

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