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Pilot in Runway Collision on Rebound After Personal Problems With AM-Planes Collide

December 5, 1990 GMT

PHOENIX (AP) _ Northwest Airlines pilot Bill Lovelace had just begun to get his life in order after a divorce and business failure when he found himself on the wrong runway at Detroit’s foggy Metro Airport.

The pilot in a runway crash that killed eight people was described by friends Wednesday as a professional-caliber magician and woodworker, a man meticulous in everything he did.

″I would never hesitate to fly with him,″ said Barbara Giannini, a neigbor.

Investigators say Lovelace was piloting a Northwest DC-9 that collided with one of the carrier’s Boeing 727s on Monday killing eight people on the DC-9 and injuring 24 others. No one aboard the 727 was injured.

Lovelace, 52, whose own injuries were minor, once was an instructor in flying DC-9s and has flown commercial airliners since 1966, Northwest officials said.

After logging 20,000 hours in commercial flight, he took disability leave in February 1985 for kidney stone treatment.

Monday’s flight would have been his 13th since returning to work Nov. 25 following two weeks of ground training and 13 hours of simulator flying. Five of the dozen flights had been into or out of the Detroit airport, but Monday’s was his first without a monitor at his side, Northwest said.

Three weeks before returning to active duty, Lovelace had been declared bankrupt under a petition he had filed in mid-July in federal Bankruptcy Court in Phoenix. Court records show he cited debts of about $152,000 against assets of $106,000 and a monthly income of $4,212 in pension and retirement benefits.

The airline has described his absence as a medical leave rather than retirement.

His bankruptcy laywer, David Engelman, said part of Lovelace’s debt stemmed from an unsuccessful gift shop that he sold in 1989.

Divorced and with two grown children, Lovelace had remarried in September. He was certified as fit to fly Oct. 10 by the Federal Aviation Administration.

″Flying was his No. 1 love; he talked about it often,″ said Judy Wells, a friend of 3 1/2 years.

No one answered the door at Lovelace’s Phoenix residence Wednesday, where a neatly trimmed kumquat tree graces the front yard of the beige, stucco one- story house with heavy, brown shutters.

Neighbors offered a positive portrait of the man.

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An accomplished magician, he performed as the Great Orsini, complete with swirling black cape.

″Good enough to be professional,″ said a friend, Jack Wall.

″He’s just a good neighbor,″ said Ms. Judy Wells, who took over the gift shop he’d started during his medical leave. ″He’d stop in and see how your day was going.″

Neighbor Dave Giannini, a carpenter, also knows him as ″very fussy, meticulous, very intelligent.″

″His house, shop - anything he did - had to be just right,″ said Giannini, who lives across the street from Lovelace.

″I don’t honestly believe it was his negligence″ that led to the collision, Giannini said. ″That guy was a straight guy. ... Even driving a vehicle he was really cautious.″

Brad Zinn, a friend who patronizes Sun Magic Shop where Great Orsini posters are displayed, said Lovelace is ″a very detailed kind of guy.″

″Everything was just so with Bill, and I’m sure he took that into the cockpit,″ Zinn said. ″Bill just wouldn’t have wandered onto the runway without some good reason. There must have been some miscommunication.″

It was Lovelace’s interest in magic that led to his woodworking.

He would perform shows for schools and hospitals when he wasn’t flying. And because he needed props for such tricks as sawing a woman in half, he said in a 1986 newspaper interview, he decided to make his own.

That led to purchase of a table saw and other equipment, and ultimately to the lathe on which he shapes bowls that have sold for $300 to $750. He once said it took 40 to 50 hours to make one of them.

He also has produced chess sets and grandfather clocks.