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Pilot's Fatal Crash Puzzles Friends

Aviation: Richard Runyon, one of two killed Tuesday, was an accomplished flier.

November 15, 2001|KENNETH REICH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Richard Carroll Runyon, a designer of international repute, had flown many kinds of aircraft for 45 years.

So it was inexplicable to his friends and loved ones Wednesday that Runyon, 63, died in an accident at Santa Monica Airport apparently caused, an investigator informed them, by failure to remove a control pin that prevented his light plane from taking off.

Normally, such a pin would have kept his Cessna engine from even starting. But the system apparently had been rigged so the plane could start without the pin being removed. A friend and professional pilot, Clay Lacy, on Wednesday called this uncommon.

The plane, roaring down the airport runway Tuesday night, went into a skid when Runyon tried to stop it after it failed to lift off and then slid off the end of the runway, down an embankment and into a guardrail, bursting into flames.

Runyon, of Sherman Oaks, designer of Federal Express' corporate logo and a lead designer of the Spruce Goose exhibit in Long Beach, died at the scene.

Killed with him, associates said, was a former employee and longtime friend, Kathleen Vanis, 49, of Marina del Rey. She was flying to the Van Nuys Airport with him to prepare to take care of his dog while he was on a trip to England, due to start Wednesday.

Mary Wilson, one of Runyon's two daughters, said an investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board told her that the control pin, or lock, had been found in place.

"I don't think he would have jury-rigged anything like that," Wilson said. "The investigator couldn't believe the pin was still in."

Wilson said her father did not drink or smoke, and business associates and friends described him as a man who was meticulous in maintaining his aircraft and flying safely.

Lacy said that Runyon had flown around the world with him on a Learjet, setting a speed record, and that Runyon "was really, really procedure-conscious, an excellent pilot."

"You can control the lock in two ways," Lacy said. "I don't think it would be common to rig it so the plane could operate without it being unlocked. Normally, the lock is used the way it is designed. This is unusual."

The NTSB investigator could not be reached Wednesday.

Records of the Federal Aviation Administration show that Runyon's flight certificate was in order, and that he had a required medical exam in April and was not due for another until next year.

Runyon had won many prizes as the creator of some of the world's most visible corporate identity and image programs, product packaging and advertising.

Runyon owned Richard C. Runyon Design in Brentwood.

He is survived by his wife, Kay, who went to England before him; two daughters, Wilson and Laurie Daugherty, and two grandchildren. Vanis, a family member said, is survived by her three children.

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