FOUNTAIN HILLS, AZ (3TV/CBS5) -- A Tempe-based aviation company is mourning the loss of two men who were killed in a helicopter crash near Fountain Hills on Tuesday morning.
Van Horn Aviation said experimental test pilot Rucie Moore and VHA engineering manager Stephen Estes were the only two on board the helicopter when it went down after 7 a.m. near Fort McDowell and Yavapai roads.
VHA said Moore was a decorated helicopter test pilot for the U.S. Army and was a professor and helicopter program chair at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. Prior to Embry-Riddle, Moore was a decorated helicopter test pilot for the U.S. Army.
Estes graduated from Arizona State University with a master's in aerospace engineering and had been an engineer with VHA for five years.
Before that, he was "instrumental in the design and analysis of current rotor blades," VHA said.
Estes' family released the following statement about his death:
“We are mourning the loss of Stephen, a beloved husband, son, brother, grandson, nephew, uncle, cousin, and friend. While the grief is immeasurable, we are thankful for over 28 years of living in the midst of his infectious smile, competitive spirit, kind heart, and commitment to his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
We nearly lost Stephen 7 years ago when he was struck by a truck, and suffered a traumatic brain injury while helping an elderly couple involved in a wreck on the 202 near ASU. Stephen had a heart of gold that shone brightly wherever he went. His death leaves us grief stricken, but not without hope.
If Stephen could, he would remind us that ‘Our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness. We dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus name.’”
“We mourn the loss of our friends during this tragic accident,” said VHA president Dean Rosenlof in a statement. “Both men contributed greatly to the design and development of our most recent rotor blade designs. Their passing will leave large holes in our company and they will both be missed personally and professionally.”
To some, Moore was the friend you’re lucky to have.
“It’s a big hit. There’s a lot of people that he touched during his life and he’ll be missed,” said David Allen.
Allen now lives in Alaska, but he and Moore go way back to their Army days.
“Rucie and I met in basic training actually when we started back in ’86,” he said. “He was actually my flight school roommate throughout all of flight school.”
The two became so close during that time, that Moore was a groomsman in Allen’s wedding.
Allen was shocked when he heard what happened.
“I’ll be honest, it brought tears to my eyes,” Allen said.
He wishes he could tell Moore one more thing.
“That’s a tough one…yeah….just gonna miss ya,” he said through tears.
But among the tragedy, Allen has found peace knowing his friend's last moments were spent in the sky.
“At least he was doing what he loved to do, and I can only hope that I can go out the same way,” Allen said.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) told Arizona's Family that a Bell 206B crashed under "unknown circumstances."
The pair departed from Falcon Field in Mesa before the crash occurred.
The FAA initially said it believed the pilot was the only person aboard the aircraft.
Video from our news helicopter showed the aircraft down in a remote field, destroyed.
The FAA and the NTSB are investigating the crash.
“Our dear colleague, Rucie Moore, was an outstanding pilot, an Army veteran and distinguished faculty member with deep experience in the flight test arena,” said Dr. Frank Ayers, chancellor of Embry-Riddle’s Prescott campus. “His many contributions to the education of our students, including his extensive real world experience, was immeasurable. The entire Embry-Riddle family, our faculty, students and staff, feel his loss and extend our thoughts and prayers to his family.”