VISALIA, Calif. (KFSN) --The loss of pilot James Chavez and deputy Scott Ballantyne was felt throughout the aviation community. The two flew out of the Visalia Airport nearly every day, taking pride in the work they did.
Rod Bower spends most days in his hangar at the Visalia Airport building a replica of a P51 Mustang airplane. As he'd get settled in doing his work he'd often see Chavez and deputy Ballantyne taking off in Sheriff One. In fact, he saw them leave for Porterville Wednesday afternoon. "Obviously because we're pilots we have something in common, and they're part of our airport family," said Bower.
The two-seater, hi-tech, plane had infrared sensors and was quiet-- giving it capabilities to fly like a helicopter hovering low and at slow speeds. Bower said this made the plane safer than others. "The survivability in a crash goes up exponentially with the factor of speed, and it could go really slow, so they had a really good chance of surviving it."
Bower said the Visalia airport community is still recovering from December's Skylife helicopter crash that took the life of a pilot, two first responders, and a patient. The crew was also based out of the Visalia Airport. Now, two tragedies hitting close to home. "They were part of the sheriff's squadron. So knowing them-- we just-- know them to wave at them, and we feel a loss, and we really didn't expect that," said Bower.
Visalia Airport's senior operations worker Mario Medina said Sheriff One would take to the sky from the Visalia runway nearly every day. Chavez would often come into the office to chat with the other pilots. "He was a funny guy. He'd come in, and like, I said he'd bust everybody's chops, and so forth."
Now people are missing those smiles and the camaraderie they brought to the Visalia Airport. Chavez's car is still parked outside of the Tulare County Sheriff's Office hangar. "We see somebody one day, and the next day they're gone, and it's not something to take lightly," said Medina.
The Kings County Sheriff's Office operates the same type of plane. Deputies tell action news they've decided to ground their plane indefinitely until they learn more about Tulare's Sheriff One investigation.