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Turlock pilot loses life in aerobatics stunt
Keith Sutton Erwin, pictured here in one of his ultralights, was killed performing an aerobatics stunt on Sunday at an airport outside of Tracy. - photo by Photo Contributed
Turlock’s Keith Sutton Erwin loved to defy gravity. If the opportunity presented itself, he would take to the sky in one of his ultralight planes or a hang glider and soar through the air like a bird in flight.
Sadly, that love came to a tragic end when the 55-year-old pilot was killed Sunday during an aerobatics stunt at an airport just outside of Tracy.
“As horrible as this is, at least I know he died doing what he loved,” said his daughter Hallie Erwin.
Erwin said her father left from the Turlock Airport Sunday afternoon and flew to the New Jerusalem Airport to join in a hang gliding clinic. He was performing acrobatics in his ultralight when one of the cables on the wing snapped. He deployed a parachute that was attached to the plane, but it got tangled up and the craft nose-dived into the ground, killing him instantly.
“This was purely a malfunction of the plane and not pilot error,” Erwin said. “My father absolutely knew what he was doing up there.”
Ultralight planes weigh less than 254 pounds, have a maximum speed of 55 knots, and hold no more than 5 gallons of fuel. Ultralights do not require Federal Aviation Administration airworthiness certificates and a pilot’s license is not required to fly one, FAA spokesperson Ian Gregor said. For the most part, the only regulations for ultralights is that they can only be flown between sunrise and sunset and cannot be flown over populated areas, Gregor said.
Erwin said her father had taken flying classes and had been flying ultralights for about eight years.
Keith Erwin was born in Modesto and had been living in Turlock for about 12 years. A musician at heart, with an ear towards rock and roll and blues, he played drums and guitar for decades with a few different bands. As a young man, he took up his father’s profession as a piano tuner and mover and joined the family business A1 Piano Movers.
In addition to flying ultralights, he took up hang gliding. Erwin said her father’s true joys were aeronautics, music and his “best buddy,” 3-year-old grandson Noah Castaneda.
“He was a man that did what made him happy, and for him, he was happiest up in the air,” Erwin said.
To contact Sabra Stafford, e-mail or call 634-9141 ext. 2002.