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Brownsville minister dies in plane crash at Weslaco airport

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Posted: Friday, July 3, 2009 12:00 am

WESLACO — Federal aviation investigators hope to learn more today about a plane crash at Mid Valley Airport that left a Brownsville minister dead.

Emergency management officials believe Ralph Copeland, 70, flew his single-engine Beechcraft Bonanza into a fence bordering the facility during an attempt to land just before 11 a.m. Friday.

The impact killed Copeland and left his passenger - Aaron Jay Voreis, 38, of Brownsville - injured, said Weslaco police spokesman David Molina.

Voreis was airlifted to Valley Baptist Medical Center in Harlingen for examination of a head wound but was seen walking around the crash site shortly after the wreck.

"The passenger was alert and talking," Molina said.

As dusk fell Friday, investigators from the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board arrived to inspect the scene.

Copeland's plane still lay mangled along the fence line on Joe Stephens Road. Questions surrounding the cause of the crash remained unanswered.

Flight records indicate Copeland took off from the Brownsville-South Padre Island International Airport just after 9 a.m. Friday and landed at South Texas International Airport in Edinburg less than 20 minutes later. The two men may have been returning to Brownsville when the plane went down, said George Garrett, Weslaco's emergency management coordinator.

Copeland, an experienced pilot, had held a license to fly since 1973, according to FAA records. Voreis obtained a student license just last month.

The crash was the first fatality at the Weslaco airport since the June 1998 wreck of a Cessna two-seater that claimed the life of student pilot Abraham Tanus Jr., 15, and his flight instructor, 31-year-old Gregory Carey, of Harlingen.

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Valley Morning Star reporter Allen Essex contributed to this report.

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Jeremy Roebuck covers courts and general assignments for The Monitor. You can reach him at (956) 683-4437.

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Other area aviation accidents in the last five years:

>> June 4, 2009 - Harlingen, Robinson Helicopter R22 Beta, Nonfatal. After being left unattended for about two minutes, the helicopter began to lift-off and then struck terrain, resulting in substantial damage.

>> April 18, 2009 - McAllen, BOEING 737-724, Nonfatal. Continental Airlines Flight 511 encountered severe turbulence on approach to McAllen-Miller International Airport. One flight attendant sustained minor injuries, two passengers sustained minor injuries, and one passenger was critically injured.

>> April 9, 2009 - Edinburg, CESSNA T210N, Fatal (1). A single-engine plane piloted by prominent local attorney William "Bill" Peisen went down near the intersection of Monte Cristo and Jackson roads. Peisen was killed.

>> Feb. 5, 2008 - South Padre Island, Eurocopter France AS350B2, Fatal (3). Valley AirCare pilot Robert Goss and paramedics Michael T. Sanchez and Raul Garcia were killed when their EMS helicopter crashed in the Laguna Madre.

>> Oct. 12, 2007 - McAllen, Cessna 172, Nonfatal

>> July, 11, 2007 - Mercedes, Bell 47G-2A, Nonfatal

>> May 2, 2007 - McAllen, LIVPT INC Lancair IV-P, Fatal (2). Jose Francisco Ortiz, 34, a pilot from Tampico, Mexico, was flying the single-engine "experimental" plane shortly after takeoff from McAllen-Miller International Airport when the plane crashed in the middle of 10th Street between Dicker Drive and Military Highway. His girlfriend died at the scene. Ortiz suffered serious burns and later died.

>> April 25, 2007 - Rachal, Cessna 182R, Fatal (1). U.S. Customs and Border Protection pilot Clint Thrasher was killed when his single-engine plane fell from the sky as he pursued three illegal immigrants fleeing from authorities below.

>> May 21, 2006 - Weslaco, Cessna P210N, Nonfatal

>> Jan. 26, 2006 - Port Isabel, Eurocopter France AS-350-B2, Nonfatal

>> Aug. 9, 2005 - Lyford, Rockwell S-2R, Nonfatal

>> June 2, 2005 - Los Fresnos, Parkwood Enterprises Inc. Glasair Super II-S, Nonfatal

>> March 18, 2005 - Rio Grande City, Cessna 172N, Nonfatal

>> Dec. 28, 2004 - Los Fresnos, Beech BE35, Nonfatal

>> Dec. 4, 2004 - McAllen, Convair 580, Nonfatal

>> Sept. 9, 2004 - Rachal, Piper PA-32R-300, Fatal (1). Kenneth Engles of San Antonio was piloting the single-engine plane to McAllen to deliver unprocessed checks to a local bank when the aircraft went down on a ranch after he reported mechanical problems. Engles was killed.

Source: National Transportation Safety Board and Monitor archives

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