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Air Force combat pilot dies in private plane crash

Brother of pilot, a former Air Force staff sergeant, also killed in incident

Sep. 4, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
Maj. Rick W. Schafer III, an instructor pilot with the 49th Fighter Training Squadron, poses with his wife, Ashley. Schafer died in an Aug. 31 plane crash that also killed his brother, Taylor, a former Air Force staff sergeant.
Maj. Rick W. Schafer III, an instructor pilot with the 49th Fighter Training Squadron, poses with his wife, Ashley. Schafer died in an Aug. 31 plane crash that also killed his brother, Taylor, a former Air Force staff sergeant. (Courtesy photo)
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Family members remember the decorated combat pilot and his brother, who joined the Air Force to follow in his footsteps, as selfless, funny and loving.

Both were killed in an Aug. 31 private plane crash near Abilene Regional Airportin Texas.

Maj. Rick W. Schafer III, 35, was piloting the plane. His brother Taylor, 28, left the Air Force last year as a staff sergant, said their mother, Beth.

Taylor’s wife, Victoria, and 2-year-old son Wyatt survived the crash.

“They were wonderful men; they were wonderful people: Honest, loving and loyal,” Beth said of her sons. “They loved what they did. Both of them loved the Air Force. They loved their families. They were good sons and honest as the day is long.”

Rick was an instructor pilot with the 49th Fighter Training Squadron with a total of more than 2,385 flight hours, including more than 445 combat hours, according to the 14th Flying Training Wing at Columbus Air Force Base, Mississippi. He received three Air Medals for flying in support of operations in the Persian Gulf region.

With more than 1,200 flight hours in the T-38 Talon trainer, Rick was one of the best and most experienced instructor pilots in his squadron, admired by both students and other instructor pilots, said Lt. Col. Paul Carlton, commander of the 49th Fighter Training Squadron. Rick, whose call sign was “Tracer,” had taught introduction to fighter fundamentals for the past seven years at Columbus Air Force Base and Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas.

“Tracer was loved by all; he was respected, more importantly, by all, which is an important quality in our community, where you earn your living by the respect that people have for you — not necessarily the fact that you can fly an airplane,” Carlton said. “I respected him a great deal.”

For Rick, joining the Air Force was a childhood ambition, his mother said.

“Richie — I call him ‘Richie,’ his name was Rick — wanted to join ever since he was in seventh grade,” Beth said. “He wanted to fly jets. Talyor wanted to get in, I think, following in his big brother’s footsteps.”

Taylor wanted to make a career out of the Air Force, but he had back issues that left him in constant pain, forcing him to leave the service with a medical disability, said his uncle Robert White.

“I just visited with him a week before he died,” White said. “He came to show me his new child, his little boy. He was going through some issues. He’s been a little angry with his injuries; he’s in pain all the time. We talked it over — very open-hearted young man, very loving young man. The last words he told me, he said, ‘I love you, Uncle Robert.’ That’s the last conversation we had.”

Cousin Gwen Wells remembers how Taylor always did odd jobs for her mother, including home and car repair. While her father was sick, Taylor would show up and take care of any chores that needed to be done without being asked. The day her father died, Taylor and his wife were at the house all day, running errands and providing moral support for the family.

“Taylor and his older brother, Rick, were cast in the same mold — selflessly helpful, wickedly funny and just all around great guys,” Wells said. “Both would do literally anything to help out friends and family. Both were Godly men who were raising beautiful families. The world will be a little less without them in it.”

Rick leaves behind his wife, Ashley, and two daughters: Avery, 8, and Rachel, 6, according to his family. In addition to his wife and son Wyatt, Taylor is survived by his son John Luke, seven weeks old.

Wyatt was in the back seat of the plane along with his mother, Wells said. Wyatt was released from the hospital with minor injuries. As of Sept. 3, Victoria remained hospitalized with broken bones and other injuries but was doing well.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the cause of the crash.

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