Jason Long died after plane hit helicopter FridayBy Preston Knight -- firstname.lastname@example.org
EDINBURG -- Jason Long appeared to have a passion for the air as much as the ground.
An accomplished runner at Central High School in the mid-1990s, Long, 32, later took to the skies, flying commercially and serving as a flight instructor. He worked in those capacities at the time of his death Friday, when the 1967 Cessna 172 he was aboard with a 19-year-old man collided with a medical helicopter near the Shenandoah Valley Regional Airport in Weyers Cave. Both men died, but the three people in the helicopter survived.
"Aviation is like a family," said John Trissel, manager of Eagle's Nest Flight Services in Waynesboro. "It rocks the family when something like that happens."
Long came to Trissel's rescue in October when the business' full-time flight instructor became ill. For about a month, Long traveled from Edinburg several times a week to teach students.
"Keeping the rust off," Trissel said.
While he only knew Long for a short period of time, he said he detected an enthusiasm for flying, something that likely came from having pilots in the family and an airstrip on family property in Edinburg. Long at one point worked for Dynamic Aviation in Bridgewater, a spokeswoman said.
"He was a very accomplished instructor. He got along with everybody," Trissel said. "Everybody was complimentary. They were ecstatic to fly with him."
Rick Lytton, the longtime track coach at Central, expressed a similar regard for Long's running on Monday.
"He always looked like he enjoyed what he was doing," Lytton said. "He always had a smile on his face. Even in the hardest workouts, he would run and end up smiling."
Lytton, in his 36th year as track coach, said Long maintains three school records -- the 800-meter, 1,600-meter and 3,200-meter events.
"No one has really been close to the records that he set," he said. "I never saw him take any turn off or any run off. He always ran hard. There was a group of kids around him who did the same thing."
Long also ran cross country in high school, Lytton said. After graduating from Central in 1997, he attended James Madison University, where he was a four-time All-American runner and later named to the Colonial Athletic Association's men's track and field silver anniversary team. Long, who graduated from college in 2001, competed in the 2000 Olympic trials in the 800-meter event, according to www.caasports.com.
A person who answered a call to Long's parents' residence in Edinburg on Monday afternoon said that the family was not yet ready to publicly comment.
The plane crash occurred around 2:30 p.m. Friday, a half-mile north of the airport. A representative of the National Transportation Safety Board could not be reached for comment Monday, but the investigation could take up to a year.
FAA spokesman Jim Peters has said it appeared the helicopter was attempting to land and the Cessna was taking off when they collided. He described the airplane as a small, general aviation four-seater. State police said it was unclear who was flying the plane, which has dual controls.
The three occupants of the helicopter, which had just dropped off a patient at the University of Virginia Medical Center, were unhurt.
The Cessna's registered owner is Michael W. Price, of Elkton. He called Long "a dear friend."
"It's a great loss to me as well as the aviation community, and the community at large," Price said. "He did a lot of good for a lot of kids. ... He was a very, very good instructor."
Price was going to a family meeting for the 19-year-old victim, Jacob H. Kiser, of Grottoes, Monday night. Trissel also knew Kiser, having grown up with the teen's father.
"It was a double whammy for us," Trissel said.
The Eagle's Nest website displayed a message Monday stating that it kept both families in its thoughts and prayers.
"They will be missed!" it states.