William K. Kramer drove an immaculately kept 1969 Buick Riviera, worked long hours as an executive for International Light Metals and was described by friends as an experienced and cautious pilot, although federal investigators said he had logged only 231 hours of flying time over a period of five years.
Kramer was the owner of the single-engine Piper Archer airplane that collided with an Aeromexico DC-9 Sunday.
An autopsy late Monday on the body of the man believed to be the pilot of the Archer showed that he had suffered a heart attack just before the collision, according to the Los Angeles County coroner's office.
Neighbors at Ridgegate Townhomes in Rancho Palos Verdes last saw Kramer, 53, and his wife, Kathleen, in the pool Sunday morning. Then the couple left on an outing.
After taking off from the Torrance airport on a flight for Big Bear, Kramer's aircraft collided with the Aeromexico plane at 11:55 a.m.
Authorities have not released the identity of the three who died in the small plane pending fingerprints and dental record searches. However, a daughter, Suzanne Kramer, told the Seattle Times that she feared that her father, mother and sister Caroline probably were killed in the crash.
Before moving to the Palos Verdes Peninsula within the last year, Kramer had lived his entire life in Washington state, graduating in 1956 as a metallurgy major from Washington State University, where he played fullback and linebacker on the football team. Until he took a position in Torrance as an executive with International Light Metals, he worked his entire professional career for Kaiser Aluminum Chemical Corp. in Spokane.
He and his wife, a dietitian, raised five children, including Suzanne, who still lives in the Spokane area; Mary, who resides in San Francisco; Michelle, a senior at Washington State at Pullman; Caroline, a Redondo Beach resident, and William, who lives near Portland, Ore., according to friends.
Since the accident, aviation officials have speculated that the pilot of the Piper Archer may have caused the collision by straying into one of Los Angeles International Airport's principal approach routes without proper authorization.
However, friends said Kramer was a knowledgeable and cautious pilot.
At Torrance Airport, where Kramer's Buick was still parked Monday, private pilot George Roth said airport records that he had seen since the crash revealed that Kramer had flown in and out of the airport since 1981--before he moved to Southern California.
The records "indicated to me that he knew what he was doing because he had (flown) it so many times," Roth said. He added that he knew Kramer as an experienced pilot.
Robert M. Cole, of Spokane, a friend of Kramer since high school, said he believed Kramer got his pilot's license about six years ago.
Cole said he flew with Kramer four times and that on two of those occasions, "we sat on the ground waiting for the weather to clear, even though it was VFR (visual flight rules) conditions and we could have flown."
"He was just a very supercautious guy," he said.
Kramer "was always very concerned about safety," said Steve Harvey, a former neighbor.
Ed McDonald, a colleague of Kramer at Kaiser Aluminum, described him as "a very conscientious pilot."
"The one time he went flying with me, he looked around, made sure the traffic was clear, was very precise," McDonald said. "Bill handled the airplane real well."
The couple moved to the Palos Verdes Peninsula when William Kramer, who had taken early retirement from Kaiser, became an executive with International Light Metals Co., a metal extrusion and casting firm with a plant in Torrance.
Kramer usually came home about 7 p.m. and frequently worked Saturdays, according to neighbor Betty Rodesch.
Neighbor Norak Grundhaus said Kathleen Kramer had mentioned Big Bear several times last week, and she assumed that the Kramers would be going there soon on an outing.
Rodesch, who accompanied sheriff's deputies as they entered the Kramers' home Sunday afternoon after the crash, said the couple had apparently intended to return home soon.
She said they left a front window open and a door from the garage unlocked.
"The dirty dishes are still there," Rodesch said.