FRASER — As a federal aviation investigation works to determine the reason behind a single-engine airplane crash at Oakland County International Airport, those who knew the four locals killed mourned their deaths.
Killed in the crash were Fraser couple Jim and Sandra Haley and Sandra’s teenage son, Troy Brothers, an International Academy of Macomb graduate and aviation student. Jamie Jose, Brothers’ cousin and Sandra Haley’s nephew, also perished in the accident.
“They were a close family,” said Steve Barber, who is Jose’s stepfather and the husband of Sandra Haley’s sister, Victoria Barber. “They’re going to be so missed.”
Steve Barber said after the flight, the family planned on gathering that evening at Jim and Sandra’s house, where they often gathered around holidays or for barbecues. This time, the celebration was a send-off for Brothers, who was to leave for the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md.
Instead, the Cessna 172M — a single-engine, four-seat, fixed-wing aircraft — crashed and burst into flames shortly after takeoff on a grassy field at the end of the runway.
In a transmission to the airport control tower, Brothers, who had obtained his pilot’s license in May, radioed, “We’re a little overweight,” and requested permission to return to the landing strip. The plane, which belonged to one of the airport’s on-site training schools, had reached an elevation of about 100 feet.
J. David VanderVeen, Oakland County’s director of central services, which encompasses the airport, said airport first-responders were on the scene in less than a minute, and all air traffic was shut down for about two-and-a-half hours after the crash. Air traffic was reopened after the Federal Aviation Administration had viewed the accident.
The next day, the National Transportation Safety Board began an investigation. NTSB spokesman Terry Williams said the federal agency concluded the on-scene portion of its investigation on June 24, though the investigation was still in an early phase.
Williams said such investigations typically last about a year, during which time the NTSB tries to determine the contributing factors of the crash.
At the International Academy of Macomb, where Brothers had graduated in 2012, school teachers and administrators were saddened to learn of Brothers’ death, according to a statement from the school. The week following the crash, counselors were available at the IAM to meet with students and staff.
The IAM is an International Baccalaureate high school, taking students from 18 school districts around Macomb County. Brothers attended from Fraser Public Schools.
IAM counselor Laura Strong said in the statement that Brothers’ ambition to become a pilot was evident. He often talked about flying, and even wrote about his dream of flying in a college entrance essay, she said.
Brothers had finished his freshman year majoring in aviation at Western Michigan University. According to the university, he would not have returned this fall, having been accepted into the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md.
“He was one of the top in his class,” Steve Barber said.
IAM teacher Judy Depew said she was proud of Brothers’ recent accomplishments, adding, “He definitely kept pursuing his dreams.”
Michael DeVault, superintendent of the Macomb Intermediate School District, said that Brothers embodied “the spirit of our young people today who have set high goals for themselves and are ready to be the leaders of tomorrow.”
And for Jim Haley — a 58-year-old Fraser High School alumnus and local Realtor — family came first, said Carol Vitale, who worked with Haley at RE/MAX First. He was a consistent seller, and he led a well-balanced life, she said.
“Over and over, he always helped other Realtors, no matter how new they were. He always had a smile on his face,” Vitale said, adding he never lost his cool. “If we could all be like him, that would make the real estate industry better, that’s for sure.”
Those who knew Sandra Haley, 53, who worked as a project manager for IBM, said she was equally as pleasant to be around.
The night before the flight, Thursday, June 20, they went to a restaurant to celebrate Jim and Troy’s birthday, which was that day.
State Rep. Marilyn Lane, who knew the Fraser family personally and had written a letter of recommendation to the Naval Academy for Brothers, said the 19-year-old had accomplished a lot during his short life.
“I think he made everybody proud,” Lane said.
Barber added that Jose, 34, was a highly respected, hard-working firefighter and paramedic in Northfield Township, as well as a father of three children, aged 11, 6 and 4 years old.
Lane said that American flags that will be flown over the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., and the Michigan Capitol in Lansing will be given to surviving family members.
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