James and Amy Kerker knew their 6-year-old son, Lucas, might not live a long life. But they were determined to make it a full one.
Having an airplane was one way for the Union County, Ohio couple to make trips and vacations easier for their only child, who was born with Ataxia-telangiectasia, a rare genetic disease that causes progressive loss of muscle control, immune-system problems and a high rate of cancer.
On Monday morning, after taking off from Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport in Broomfield, Colo., something went tragically wrong.
Mr. Kerker, 41, a former U.S. Air Force pilot, was following I-70 west toward the mountains, but might have underestimated the elevation needed to cross them.
Witnesses reported seeing the family’s single-engine Piper Cherokee turn quickly to avoid a ridge around 8:45 a.m. The plane crashed and caught fire at Loveland Valley Ski Area. The family died in the wreckage.
The problem is all too familiar to Colorado authorities. Several planes, including one carrying the 1970 Wichita State football team, have gone down in similar crashes, said Capt. Randy Long, of the Clear Creek County sheriff’s office.
“As they’re following I-70, the Continental Divide is not readily apparent until you round the corner,” Long said. “If you don’t have the altitude at that point, there’s no way a single-engine aircraft will have enough altitude to fly over the ridge line.”
Mrs. Kerker’s sister, Leslie Lefeld, of New Bremen in Auglaize County, said the family took frequent trips. “It was something that they could do as a family,” she said.
Mrs. Kerker, 38, a nurse practitioner at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, devoted everything to Lucas, who was expected to require a wheelchair by age 10 and not to live past 18, Lefeld said.
Lucas, she said, had just finished kindergarten at Mill Valley Elementary School in Marysville. In January, he was designated a junior state trooper by the State Highway Patrol. He was looking forward to the monthlong trip, even as his illness was taking its toll.
“They wanted to make sure he got his life experiences in,” Lefeld said.
“He was too young to understand, and didn’t let it stop him,” she added. “He would try anything. He was just full of life, just a happy kid.”
By Dean Narciso - The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio (MCT)
©2014 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)
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