Sunday’s crash of a private plane that claimed the life of three others, including the 14-year-old son of NBC Sports Chairman Dick Ebersol, was not the first time that an aviation tragedy has touched the life of pilot Eric Wicksell. According to Wicksell’s grandmother, Teresa Benke, the 30-year-old pilot’s parents were among 68 people who died in an airline crash in Georgia when he was only three.
“You don’t expect to be visited twice,” said Benke, who lives in Dania Beach [FL]. “It’s kind of hard to take, now that he’s hurt.” On April 4, 1977, a Southern Airways DC9 went down near Atlanta, killing Benke’s daughter Barbara and son-in-law Byron, who lived in Dania Beach. Wicksell, 3, and his sister, Eve, 5, went to live with their aunt Toni Blankenship, another of Benke’s daughters. Blankenship’s husband at the time, Bruce Lorusso, was a captain with Eastern Airlines. Lorusso’s vocation, Benke said, may have sparked Wicksell’s love of flying. “I don’t know if it was that or it was just something he wanted to do,” she said. “We were all surprised he went for [flying] after his parents died.”
Wicksell, who now lives outside Daytona Beach, was co-piloting Ebersol’s private jet when it crashed near the Montrose airport early Sunday. Killed were Ebersol’s son Edward; pilot Luis Alberto Polanco Espaillat, 50, of the Dominican Republic; and flight attendant Warren T. Richardson of Coral Gables. Ebersol and his son, Charles, 21, are expected to recover.