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Clem Bowman - U.S. Team Member Dies in Accident

The following comes from two locally reported newspaper articles from the site of the competition where Clem Bowman died.

By Anjeanette Damon
June 14th, 1999

A nationally ranked glider pilot died Sunday when his plane plummeted about 100 feet to the ground during a practice round of a national competition at the Minden-Tahoe Airport.

Clem Bowman of Clermont, Fla., died instantly when his Genesis sail plane crashed into the ground shortly after take off about 1:15 p.m., airport officials said. The small airport was busy with 45 competitors in the 1999 Standard Class Nationals competition and their crews.

Bowman had been towed about 100 feet into the air when the horizontal stabilizer, a piece on the tail that control's the plane's pitch, fell off, causing the plane to dive, said Rick Walters, chairman of the Minden-Tahoe Airport Advisory Committee.

"The FAA will decide, but the initial guess is that he did not assemble the aircraft correctly," Walters said.

Gliders are taken apart after every flight for storage, he said. The process takes about five minutes.

The Federal Aviation Administration and the Douglas County Sheriff's Department are investigating the crash.

Bowman had been competing for more than 10 years and was the 1997 U.S. champion. He was scheduled to represent the United States next month at an international competition in Germany.

"He's a top quality pilot," Walters said.

Pilots were practicing a 200-mile run to Bishop, Calif., and back Sunday. The competition is scheduled to begin Tuesday.

"It will be a very quiet event now," Walters said. "It's been more than 10 years since we've lost a pilot in competition."

Walters said Bowman was a doctor in his early 50s. His wife Mary, who had accompanied Bowman to Minden, returned to Clermont shortly after the accident. The couple has two children.

By Tim Anderson
June 15th, 1999

Glider pilots at Minden-Tahoe Airport for this week's national competition went through another practice round Monday as scheduled.

But the atmosphere was somber and subdued.

The pilots' thoughts were with prominent colleague Clem Bowman, who died during Sunday's practice - and with his family.

"This is pretty tough stuff. I don't know when I'll start having fun again," said longtime sailplane pilot Sam Zimmerman of Greenville, S.C.

Zimmerman, a neurologist who's been flying gliders for about 30 years, said he got to know Bowman well. In addition to catching up with each other at soaring events, he said the two shared a medical background.

"He (Bowman) was my good friend. This gives all of us pause," Zimmerman said.

Bowman, an emergency room technician from Clermont, Fla., was in his early 50s. The world-class sailplane pilot is survived by his wife Mary, who returned home shortly after Sunday afternoon's accident, and two children.

Witnesses to the accident said Bowman had been towed about 100 feet into the air when the horizontal stabilizer - a part on the tail that helps control the plane -fell off. This caused the aircraft to dive into the ground, killing Bowman instantly.

Zimmerman had taken off before Bowman and didn't know about the fatal accident until returning to the Minden airport later.

"My son gave me the sad news," Zimmerman said Monday afternoon as he and about 41 other competitors prepared for their practice launch.

The 10-day Standard Class Nationals at the renowed Douglas County glider venue is scheduled to get under way today.

Pilots and crew members in Minden said close relationships are built among those who pursue their passion for the sport - creating emotional bonds that link people together into one big family.

"Everybody is distraught by what happened Sunday. It was just a horrible accident," said contest manger Eldon Hinkle of Chico, Calif.

The usual fun-loving, good-time atmosphere was missing.

"The mood today is very subdued. It's usually a lot more raucus," said former Air Force pilot Alan Reeter of Tucson, Ariz.

Although those involved in national soaring competition understand the risks involved, Reeter said the loss of a fellow pilot is difficult to deal with.

Chip Garner of Santa Fe, N.M., who's been involved in sailplanes since 1981, concurred.

"Things are somber around here today. It's kind of scary to think something like this could happen," Garner said.

Bowman, who had been competing for more than 10 years, was the 1997 U.S. champion. He was on the world team scheduled to represent this country next month in an international competition in Germany.

Airport officials said a glider pilot died in an accident about two years ago. But the last death during a competitive event goes back more than 10 years.

Speculation Monday continued to focus on the possibility Bowman's plane was not properly assembled.

Airport Manager Jim Braswell said the Federal Aviation Administration is investigating the accident for the National Transportation Safety Board. He said the inquiry is expected to take about two months.

©1999 Reno Gazette-Journal

Posted: 7/1/1999

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