CELEBRATION OF LIFE: A celebration of life party in memory of Cowden Ward Jr. will be held at noon Saturday, Dec. 1, at the hangar in Burnet at 3202 S. Water St.
UPDATE, NOV. 20: The passenger killed in the Nov. 17 crash of the Pecos Bill has been identified as 93-year-old Vincent Losada of San Antonio.
EDITOR DANIEL CLIFTON
One of Cowden Ward Jr.’s biggest thrills was sharing his P-51D Mustang Pecos Bill with veterans. The Burnet pilot probably gave hundreds of veterans rides in the classic World War II-era warbird.
On Saturday, Nov. 17, the plane crashed at about 3:15 p.m. in Fredericksburg, killing Ward and a passenger, according to officials. The passenger, who had not been identified as of Sunday afternoon, was described as a World War II B-17 pilot.
Ward and the P-51D were part of Freedom Flyers, an organization dedicated to taking veterans up in the aircraft as well as sharing the love of flying and aviation with others, especially youths. The Freedom Flyers Facebook page shared the news of Ward’s death.
“The new of this tragedy has left all of his family and friends heartbroken,” the post stated. “We hope that everyone will remember his infectious smile, his passion for flying our nation’s veterans, and above all remember him for the amazing pilot, friend, and caring person he was.”
Ward grew up in West Texas and developed a love for flying at a young age. During a previous interview, he spoke about how he became fascinated with the P-51 Mustang.
“I don’t know what it is about them,” Ward said in a 2013 story about the Mustangs. Then, he held up his hand about waist level. “Since I was about that tall, I knew I wanted to fly, and one day, I wanted to fly a Mustang.”
It would be a few years from those early days of falling in love with the P-51 Mustang before he would actually purchase the one that would become the Pecos Bill. But when he finally got it, and returned it to top flying condition, Ward shared it with others through the Freedom Flyers programs and, probably the most important role to him, by giving World War II veterans complimentary rides in the plane. He and the Freedom Flyers eventually expanded the flights to include Korean War and Vietnam War veterans as well as those dealing with PTSD from recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The plane crashed into an apartment complex parking lot in Fredericksburg. There are no reports of anyone on the ground being injured.
The Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the crash.
This is the second World War II-era aircraft from Burnet that has crashed this year. In July, the Bluebonnet Belle, a 1944 Douglas C47 Skytrain, crashed on takeoff from the Burnet Municipal Airport. All 13 people on board the plane survived. The Bluebonnet Belle was part of the Highland Lakes Squadron of the Commemorative Air Force, also located in Burnet.