Midair crash victims identified; families speak

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By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman
By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman
By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman
By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman
By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman

PHOENIX -- Two of the four victims killed in last week’s midair plane collision have been identified as flight instructors for TransPac Aviation Academy.

The company said Paul Brownell had been a top instructor since 2005. Basil Onuferko had just started with the company and was up with Brownell on a training flight before being scheduled to take his first student the following day.

Messages from friends, co-workers and family were scrawled in chalk on the tarmac where a plane used to sit before Brownell and Onuferko took it up and never returned.

“Everything he did was going to get his whole heart. That's how he approached flying. That's how he approached his family,” said Luke Brownell, Paul Brownell’s brother.

Brownell leaves behind a wife, Jen, and the couple’s two young sons -- 2-year-old Nick and 4-year-old Jack.

Luke Brownell said his brother had been in love with flying from the day he saw the first installment of the Star Wars trilogy. Shortly after, the movie Top Gun came out and it was decided – Brownell would be a pilot.

“This was his sweet spot, being able to make a difference in the lives of other people and fly airplanes,” said Luke. “You could not invent a better place for him to be.”

Onuferko's parents said their son developed his love for flying as a young boy traveling with his constantly jet setting parents. He left home in Canada to fulfill his dream of being a pilot.

“You're not supposed to lose your child … but I can't regret the path he took because it brought him so much joy,” said Maria Onuferko, Basil Onuferko's mother.

The two were on a training missing when they crashed in the air with another plane. Four people died in all.

“Whenever we have a tragedy like this we look deep and hard to see what we can learn from it and get better and how we can improve,” said Stephen Goddard, CEO of TransPac Aviation Academy.

The crash is still under investigation but some pilots have suggested the Deer Valley Airport is simply too crowded. It’s the busiest general aviation airport in the country.

Onuferko's parents said they don’t care what caused the crash.

“If this was his lot in life then so be it,” said Maria. “I'm not happy about it but I accept it.”

The National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration are investigating but likely won’t release a finding for months.

In the meantime, there are support funds set up for both victims. Paul’s will benefit his young family and the fund for Basil will go toward a flight school scholarship in his honor.

To donate contact TransPac Aviation at 623-580-7900.

Both funds also have their own websites: