Deadly Madera plane crash: Pilot, student were going to simulate engine failure, friend says

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Dan Bates could not bring himself to open his empty hangar on Friday.

His plane went down on Thursday on Avenue 17 and Road 23 in Madera.

RELATED: 2 Fresno residents killed in Madera plane crash

Inside were flight instructor and veteran pilot Joe Kulbeth and student pilot Sam Chimienti. Bates felt like fainting when he heard the awful news.

"My neighbor came up to my door there and he said, 'You are not going to like what I have to tell you'," Bates says.

Just hours earlier, he and Joe had spoken when he picked up the plane for the lesson.

"I spoke to him yesterday and he said Sam was ready to solo but before Sam can solo, he's gotta get his own insurance," Bates says.

According to other pilots who work out of the Madera Municipal Airport, Joe was practicing various skills with Sam Thursday including 'touch and go's.

A close friend, who is also a pilot and mechanic told Action News, "The last call that I heard was they were going to do a simulated engine failure, which is common during training. After that emergency vehicles started showing up."

Bates doesn't know what went wrong during that final flight. But the results have left him tearful and speechless. Joe was not only an experienced pilot but also a generous friend.

"He was just a great person and always helping any way that he could. A lot of fun to be around and I miss him dearly."

Joe's widow described her husband as larger than life. Family members were too grief-stricken to talk on camera. Joe loved being a part of a big family and when he wasn't flying, he enjoyed spending time with his wife and grandchildren.

Sam was the youngest of four children and would have turned 29 years old on Monday.

The crashed plane remains at the scene while investigators take a closer look. The National Transportation Safety Board did collect information at the scene and plans to release new details on Saturday.
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