Fatal Crash of the P-51D Mustang “Baby Duck” in Atchison County Kansas Kills Two

Vlado Lenoch on the wing of the P-51D Mustang "Baby Duck". Photo Courtesy of Warbird Heritage Foundation

At 1030 local time on Sunday July 16th the Warbird Heritage Foundation’s P-51D-25-NA Mustang, North American construction number 122-31945 and Army Air Forces serial number 44-72086, crashed in Atchison County, Kansas near the intersection of 234th Street and Ness Road. Killed in the mishap were the pilot, 64 year old Vlado Lenoch of Burr Ridge, Illinois, and his passenger, 34 year old Bethany Root of Atchison Kansas.

Bethany Root doing what she loved- flying. Photo courtesy of Ladies Love Taildraggers Facebook page

Lenoch had been flying the Mustang in the Amelia Earheart Festival along the Missouri River in the vicinity the day before. Lenoch’s passenger Root was the airport manager at Atchison County’s Amelia Earhart Airport west of Atchison from where the flights in honor of Earhart were being flown. She had been a special education teacher and ran a custom motorcycle shop in Indianapolis before learning to fly and working with McElwain crop dusters in the region. Lenoch began flying at 17 years of age and amassed more than 11,000 hours of flight time. He held a master’s degree in aeronautical engineering and worked for Boeing for many years and was still regularly flying a corporate jet. Lenoch was a licensed Airline Transport pilot with multiple flight instructor ratings and scores of type certificates including multiple warbird types, one of which was for the P-51 Mustang.

The Warbird Heritage Foundation P-51D “Baby Duck” in flight. Photo courtesy of Warbird Heritage Foundation.

Vlado Lenoch became a member of the Heritage Flight the year it was founded in 1997 and was one of its most experienced pilots. As a warbird competency evaluator Vlado helped ensure that warbird pilots were capable of handling their classic aircraft and that safety was always at the forefront of their flight conciousness. He was also a lifetime member in the Commemorative Air Force (CAF), the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA), and the Soaring Society of America (SSA). Flying was in his blood; his great uncle was a Luftwaffe Bf-109 ace in World War II. Lenoch leaves behind a wife and three children. It is believed Bethany Root was unmarried.

44-72086 in service with the Swedish Air Force. Photo courtesy of Warbird Heritage Foundation / J.L. Dienst and L. Hellmstrom.

Lenoch flew this particular P-51D Mustang often. The aircraft was built by North American Aviation of Inglewood in California in 1944. It was delivered to the Swedish Air Force in 1945 and flown by the Svenska Flygvapnet until May of 1953 when it was sold to the Dominican Republic Air Force. The Fuerza Aerea Dominicana flew the aircraft until 1984 when it was acquired by Johnson Aviation in Miami. From there the aircraft changed hands several times before it was completely restored between 2008 and 2011, after which it began flying in the colors of Captain Herbert G. Kolb’s 44-13157, a 353rd Fighter Squadron, 350th Fighter Group Mustang flown out of Raydon in England with the 8th Air Force.

44-72086 in the service of the Bolivian Air Force. Photo courtesy of Warbird Heritage Foundation / J.L. Dienst and L. Hellmstrom.

Thanks go to the Warbird Heritage Foundation for biographical and chronological information about both Vlado Lenoch and the Mustang he was flying when he and his passenger Bethany Root died. Rather than illustrate this piece with a helicopter shot of the crash site or a story by the local evening news, we chose  to link a video uploaded by Aviation Spotter of a Vlado Lenoch airshow performance flying Baby Duck. We hope you enjoy it. Rest in Peace Vlado and Bethany. Heartfelt condolences from us here at Avgeekery and ours to your families and friends.