Tragic loss- Nick Nilmeyer dies in crash

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Sep 17, 2004
Moorpark, CA
I am pretty sure I posted a video a year or so ago with his routine. Nick was killed in a crash on Tuesday in his Extra 300S. Sad to see such a young and incredibly talented pilot go. He was 22 years old. Rest well, Nick, we will miss you. :(

After spending a morning rehearsing dramatic air show maneuvers, stunt pilot Nick Nilmeyer was killed Monday while attempting to land a single-seat plane in a private airfield near Greenfield.

Nilmeyer, 23, was well known to locals for his energetic performances at the annual California International Airshow in Salinas.

"He's such an up-and-comer," said Kurt Koeppen, a family friend who has known Nilmeyer for 10 years. "It's just a damn shame to lose someone this young and talented."

Nilmeyer's plane crashed around 20 feet east of the runway at a small landing strip tucked below the Gabilan mountain foothills, four miles east of Greenfield.

Monterey County sheriff's investigators who first arrived on the scene said the cause of the crash was unknown late Monday. Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration will continue looking into the cause of the crash, deputies said.

Nilmeyer is survived by his parents, Dave and Cindy Nilmeyer of San Martin, a sister, Courtney, and a half-brother. Gary.

Nilmeyer, an experienced young pilot called one of the "Stars of Tomorrow" by his peers, had just finished practicing at "Club Metz," an airstrip on Metz Road owned by his mentor, veteran air show pilot Wayne Handley of Greenfield.

Nilmeyer lived with roommates in the Los Angeles area, but stayed with his parents in San Martin so he could go to Club Metz several days a week, Koeppen said, refining his act for the April-to-November air show season. In Greenfield, he practiced the "extreme" loops and rolls that were his trademark in a red, white and blue Extra 300-S, a light and powerful aerobatic craft designed by stunt pilot Walter Extra.

Visibly shaken and grieving Monday afternoon, Handley's wife, Karen, watched as investigators secured the accident scene. The damaged plane sat in a strip of tall grass between the runway and Union Pacific railroad tracks.

Handley said her husband had watched Nilmeyer practice that morning, but did not see him come in for the landing. As far as she knew, there were no eyewitnesses to the crash, which occurred around 10:35 a.m.

Koeppen said a friend who sometimes videotapes practice sessions at the site wasn't filming Monday.

"People don't realize the hundreds of hours of flights you do in front of nobody to prepare for these shows," he said.

The Sheriff's Office said several people at the site pulled Nilmeyer from the wreck and attempted cardio-pulmonary resuscitation. But the pilot was dead when deputies arrived.

Along with his tightly rehearsed routines, Koeppen said, Nilmeyer would have been practicing emergency maneuvers in recent weeks.

"Part of what you practice is what to do if something goes wrong," he said. "You do practice these emergency moves. It doesn't vary much, and it isn't supposed to. What you see at the air shows is very choreographed, very refined."

Nilmeyer, he said, was one of the best young pilots around. He soloed when he was 16 years old, got his pilot licence at 17, and performed in his first air show at 19. Nilmeyer's certification had gone from approval to fly-in shows at altitudes of 800 feet, then 500, then 250 feet, and finally, to what's called a "surface waiver," meaning he was approved to fly as close to the ground as a pilot can go. According to the FAA, Nilmeyer was certified as a commercial pilot.

"He had to do so many performances at each level, not just practice, but performances," Koeppen said.

Nilmeyer was booked for eight to 10 shows this year, Koeppen said, and was getting closer than most young pilots to making a living from aerobatic flying.

Nick's parents and grandparents came immediately to the scene after learning of the accident Monday morning. According to the FAA, Dave Nilmeyer is a licenced pilot, and Koeppen said Nick's grandfather also flies recreationally.

With high-performance planes costing $100,000 or more, the Nilmeyers scrimped and saved, Koeppen said, to support Nilmeyer's dream of becoming a professional air show pilot from an early age.

"While most kids had Pam Anderson posters on their walls, Nick had Pam Anderson and airplanes. It was a split loyalty," Koeppen said.

Nilmeyer's performance style was "energetic," Koeppen said, and attracted other young pilots to the sport.

"Young kids were like 'Dude, how can I do that?' He'd say 'Go to the airport and wash and wax and pay your dues. Then if you're lucky, someone will offer to teach you.'"

Nilmeyer's plane, a German-made, single-seat aerobatic model, was 13 years old and is owned by his family. According to the company's Web site, the craft can climb 3,200 feet per minute and can roll more than 360 degrees in a second.

It most likely had passed a stringent annual inspection in December or January, Koeppen said, because most show pilots like to check their planes during the off-season.

At 2 p.m., FAA officials scoured the scene for clues to the cause of the crash while deputies stood guard. Two hours later, Amtrak's Coast Starlight rumbled by. As the day's brooding cloud cover thickened, bringing in an evening chill, investigators hurried to secure the scene, wrapping the wreckage in black plastic.

Stunt pilots practice in such remote areas, in what's called an "aerobatic box," Koeppen said.

"There is a sterile area -- free of people." That's why they work out routines in places such as Club Metz, which sits in a broad, flat plain between high mountain ranges, the Salinas river snaking along to the west.

Handley's airstrip offered a perfect backdrop for Nilmeyer to practice his art, Koeppen said, which included soaring to 3,000 feet before dropping low to the ground.

"Nick performed on a canvas in the sky," Koeppen said.

Nicholas David Nilmeyer Born: January 24, 1983 Lived: Los Angeles area, family lives in San Martin The plane: Flying an Extra 300S, a German-built, single-seat, aerobatic aircraft 2002: First Salinas air show performance 2003: Joined the Stars of Tomorrow air aerobatic team 2005: Became team captain; logged more than 1,000 flight hours

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