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Memorial planned Friday for Bill Henningsgaard, a 'champion for kids and families'

Pilot and son died in Connecticut crash; two children on ground also killed

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Posted: Monday, August 12, 2013 12:46 pm | Updated: 2:48 pm, Mon Aug 12, 2013.

Family and friends of Bill Henningsgaard continue to grieve today as more details emerge on the fatal plane crash that killed the former Astoria man and his 17-year old son, Max, while the two were visiting colleges on the East Coast.

Henningsgaard, the son of former Astoria Mayor Edith Henningsgaard-Miller and younger brother of Blair Henningsgaard, Astoria’s city attorney, was attempting to land at the Tweed-New Haven Regional Airport in Connecticut Friday when something went wrong.

Henningsgaard’s plane struck a vacant home before crashing into a second home with a family inside at 11:22 a.m. Two children, ages 1 and 13, were killed in the home. Their mother survived.

According to media reports, a first landing attempt was unsuccessful. The crash occurred on the second attempt. Officials said there were no distress calls. Federal investigators say it will be at least 10 days before there is a preliminary report on what happened (See related story, Page 12).

In 2009, Henningsgaard and his mother crashed into the Columbia River following a mechanical problem with the plane he was flying. The two were on their way to Seattle, when the engine died. The Columbia River Bar Pilots rescued the pair.

Henningsgaard and his mother survived a plane crash in 2009 when he had engine difficulties and landed in the Columbia River. He recounted his story of that drama on a blog, www.svpseattle.org

Tributes to 54-year-old Henningsgaard began immediately word of the crash reached the West Coast.

“Bill was gifted, logical, bright, and I am struggling with the accident because he was just very cool under pressure. He was thoughtful and careful and not prone to panic and he was a very experienced pilot who knew what he was doing,” said Alex Kemp, Henningsgaard’s college roommate at Harvard.

“I’m just baffled how this happened. When the first (plane crash in 2009) touched down in the river, it was totally mechanical, it was no fault of the pilot. He loved aviation; he was meticulous, and he was precise. I can’t believe he was so unlucky for that to happen twice.”

Blair Henningsgaard said he would travel to New Haven, Conn., Tuesday to collect his brother’s ashes.

Friday, a memorial is planned in Washington state.

“Anybody who knew him knew that my brother was a brilliant, hardworking, successful individual,” Blair Henningsgaard recalled tearfully of his only brother. “He was a graduate of Harvard, and of Stanford Business School, and since then, he pretty much devoted his life to improving the lives of underprivileged kids in the Seattle area. He loved his family, loved flying and loved traveling. They were going to visit Yale on the morning of the crash.”

Bill Henningsgaard, a 1977 Astoria High School graduate, was a former employee of Microsoft and the acting executive director and board chairman for Eastside Pathways, an organization for underprivileged children he recently helped launch. He was also a board member for Youth Eastside Services.

“He truly believed every child should have an equal chance to succeed,” said Patti Skelton-McGougan, executive director of Youth Eastside Services. “I know people see that he was a Microsoft exec., they might think, ‘Oh rich guy flying planes,’ but he had the means to do anything he wanted in life, and he chose his family and philanthropy. He was not just throwing money at things, but actually getting involved. He was the first to roll up his sleeves.

“He was a champion for kids and families. We’re all going to miss him.”

Henningsgaard was flying a Rockwell International Turbo Commander 690B turbo prop plane. The plane was registered to Ellumax Leasing, of Medina, Wash.

Bill Henningsgaard leaves behind a wife, Susan, and two college-aged daughters.

Kemp said Henningsgaard and he became roommates their freshman year at the ivy league school. Henningsgaard was a Presidential Scholar, extremely intelligent, fun and unassuming, Kemp said.

“He was normal, great to be around. He was extremely bright, but very easy to be around and friendly,” Kemp said. “His senior year, he took his law entrance exams and got an 800 out of 800 – a perfect score, which is almost unheard of. There are a lot of shades of gray on those questions. But the day before that, we were playing touch football together, outside, laughing. The rest of us would have had to study for 16 weeks. But he was gifted.”

Kemp and Henningsgaard stayed close throughout the years after school. Kemp visited Henningsgaard in Scotland when Henningsgaard was working for a company that sold sonar equipment to fishing boats. Henningsgaard came to Maine, where Kemp lives, to be at his wedding. They hiked a mountain in New Hampshire with Henningsgaard’s wife, Susan, a few years ago when Henningsgaard got a dozen bee stings on the way up and went into anaphylactic shock.

“None of us had an epi-pen, so two people went down the mountain to get medical help, and eventually we made our way down the mountain. He was able to walk, and met the rescue crews for help, but that was a close call a couple of years ago. After the crash landing in the river, and the bee stings that almost did him under, I thought he had nine lives. But then this happened,” Kemp said somberly.  

“I have only cheerful memories of him. He had a great sense of humor. He was completely in love with his wife, and he adored his children.”

Blair Henningsgaard said his brother had a goal when he was younger: He wanted to become a millionaire at 35 so he could retire and spend the rest of his life doing what he wanted.

“He came pretty close,” Blair Henningsgaard said. “He worked at Microsoft for 14 years, and then he did just that. He did what he wanted. That first year of retirement, he had three small kids, and a wife, so he bought a motor home and packed them up and traveled all around the United States. He took them to every national park. He spent a year, I think, doing that. And then he came back, and made an effort to resell that motor home. That’s when he took up flying. All of his travels were by flying after that.

“When he set his mind to doing something, he did it. And he’d just get it done.”

Blair Henningsgaard said his brother also kept his friendships at a high priority, especially with those back home from Astoria.

He was also a generous philanthropist.

Henningsgaard made “the first major private gift to the campaign to restore the Liberty Theater,” said Steve Forrester, who was then-president of Liberty Restoration Inc. “Bill demonstrated great courage to come into the Liberty project early. His generosity was inspiring to the rest of us.”

Henningsgaard was named one of ParentMap’s 2013 Superheroes for Washington Families. In an article declaring him “The Change-maker,” it states, “Bill Henningsgaard, like the coastal Oregon town of Astoria where he grew up, has a pronounced strength of character as well as charm. He lights up as he talks about Eastside Pathways, a partnership of organizations and individuals sharing a commitment to the idea that each and every child should have the chance to make the most of their lives.”

To read the article, visit http://www.parentmap.com/article/2013-superheroes-for-washington-families?page=4

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