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Flight Instructor's Passion Recalled

October 13, 2006|Lance Pugmire | Times Staff Writer

Tyler Stanger was a nearlyconstant presence in Norm's Hangar, the restaurant at La Verne's Brackett Field in the shadow of the San Gabriel Mountains.

It had been that way for four years, ever since the 26-year-old pilot set up shop as a flight instructor and started using the eatery as his unofficial office.

He'd sit at the tables with his students, going over the finer points of flying.

One of them was New York Yankees pitcher Cory Lidle, who had grown up just down the road in West Covina.

On Thursday, breakfast customers gathered to mourn Stanger, watching as New York Police Department Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly confirmed on television that Stanger had died with Lidle in Wednesday's Manhattan plane crash.

Those at Norm's Hangar recalled that Stanger would use his time there to teach his students "to make sure they knew everything," restaurant owner Kathy Touche said. "I guess I should've charged him rent, he was in here so often."

Even as a child, Stanger was infatuated with flying. He once said he fell in love with planes as a boy while watching them fly over his home near the Rialto airport.

By 17, he earned his pilot's license, then majored in aviation management at Southern Illinois University, according to the San Gabriel Valley Tribune. He worked for several years as an aircraft mechanic.

When he became an instructor, he took Lidle on as a student. They often flew together twice a week, for three or four hours at a time. Sometimes they flew as far as Texas.

When Stanger was at Brackett Field on Oct. 6, he told cook David Conriquez that he and Lidle were in contact as the Yankees were losing to the Detroit Tigers in the American League Division Series.

"Tyler insisted Cory was a good pilot, someone who was willing to learn to be the best he could be -- the same attitude he brought to pitching," Conriquez said.

Stanger's 3-year-old business, Stang-AIR, offered instruction, rentals and sightseeing trips. Stang-AIR's website prominently displayed a quote that said, "The most dangerous part about flying is the drive to the airport."

A high school friend, freelance photographer David Pardo, said flying was Stanger's "life and his passion." Pardo said Stanger was adventurous but insisted on safety and was a confident pilot, particularly in his own plane.

He said Stanger flew him in 2005 to take photographs of the disastrous mudslide in the coastal town of La Conchita.

"He was like, 'Dude, you're safe with me.' I trusted him with my life," Pardo said, adding that Stanger also told him: "I know my plane, and I just know that I will never get in a crash with my plane."

Lidle was among hundreds who either learned to fly or consulted with Stanger at Brackett, Touche said.

The pair took off Wednesday at 2:30 p.m. from New Jersey's Teterboro Airport, circled the Statue of Liberty then crashed into the 30th floor of the Belaire, a red-brick condominium tower on Manhattan's Upper East Side.

Pilots at Brackett on Thursday were discussing the tragedy and speculating on how it happened, Touche said.

"They're all in here, just wondering what the mechanical problems with the plane were," she said. "They think it had to be a mechanical problem."

Conriquez said he knew Stanger was in the plane when it was reported that Lidle had been aboard.

"When I saw that Cory was killed, I just knew it was Tyler with him, so I waited all night to learn the second person's name," Conriquez said. "We've lost two great souls who will be missed greatly here at Brackett."

Stanger is survived by his pregnant wife, Stephanie, and an infant daughter, according to friends.

Times staff writer J. Michael Kennedy and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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