Friends, neighbors and Nevada National Guard leaders mourned Tuesday the loss of two citizen-soldiers who were killed when a single-engine airplane they were flying while off duty crashed west of Boulder City Municipal Airport on Sunday.
A Nevada Army National Guard spokesman confirmed that Sgt. 1st Class Joseph Edwards, 41, of Las Vegas, and Pfc. Cody Hall, 23, of North Las Vegas, died when the Beechcraft T-34 Mentor crashed into the desert near the junction of U.S. Highways 95 and 93 on Sunday afternoon.
Edwards held a civilian pilot’s license and was described by a friend who worked with him at the Addison Airport in Texas as a skilled, intelligent man and experienced aviator who “would do anything for you.”
“If there was anybody I would trust to be in a plane with, it would be him, and I do not like heights,” said J.D. Bernal, 30, of Dallas, who met Edwards 10 years ago.
“His car broke down on the side of the road one day and I helped him out. He taught me how to fly and we worked on aircraft together,” Bernal said. “He was funny and would always make you laugh.”
Edwards and Hall were assigned to the 1st Detachment, Bravo Company, 3rd/140th Security and Support, a small Nevada National Guard helicopter unit based at the North Las Vegas Airport. The detachment flies OH-58 observational helicopters. Its mission includes reconnaissance, surveillance and intelligence gathering. It is often used in support of civilian law enforcement agencies especially during the New Year’s Eve celebration in Las Vegas.
Edwards, a soldier with 11 years of military service, was a helicopter repairman and maintainer for the Nevada Army National Guard.
Hall had completed one year of military service and had turned 23 the day before the crash. He was an aircraft electrician and did not hold a pilot’s license.
“Neither soldier was in a military status on Sunday. The aircraft involved was not a military aircraft, nor was it on a military mission,” said Nevada Army National Guard spokesman Sgt. 1st Class Erick Studenicka .
Both the Fderal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the crash, which occurred as winds gusted to 37 mph. Although Edwards was the only licensed pilot in the plane, investigators were trying to determine who was at the controls. A preliminary NTSB report is expected in about a week.
The plane, Beechcraft Model A45, was registered to a Henderson company, Jet Test and Transport LLC. Calls and emails to company officials weren’t returned.
In a photograph, the aircraft appears to have been restored as a replica military trainer with red U.S. Air Force lettering and a classic, winged-star emblem on the fuselage.
“It appears the owner simply painted the aircraft in the scheme of a military trainer, which is not uncommon to see with vintage aircraft,” said FAA spokesman Ian Gregor.
Gregor said the pilot had radioed that he had engine trouble and would try to make it to Boulder City Airport.
The vintage-1955 Beechcraft military trainer aircraft was en route from Chandler, Ariz., to the North Las Vegas Airport when the crash occurred one mile west of Boulder City Airport.
FAA records show Edwards held certificates for a commercial pilot, flight instructor, ground instructor and mechanic. He was rated to fly single-engine planes over land with instruments as well as helicopters. He also was authorized to pilot lighter-than-air balloons.
Edwards was a quiet but friendly guy, according to next-door neighbor Frank Grosse.
“We mostly talked over the back wall,” he said. “He has a plum tree in his backyard and he would let my grandson pick some plums.”
He was nice to his neighbors, and would often keep an eye on things while flying a helicopter over the city, Grosse said.
“When he worked in the evenings, he would circle around a bit,” Grosse said. “He would use the spotlight ... buzz the neighborhood with his helicopter.”
His death comes as a shock, though his love of flight and his careful nature have neighbors believing only an accident could have taken Edwards’ life.
“He never was a reckless type of guy,” Grosse said. “It’s a nice quiet neighborhood. At night, nothing goes on, but he still checked it out.”
His relationship with his neighbors was old-fashioned. Edwards would spend time saying, ‘Hi,’ and was friendly with three neighbors who had all moved away in the past year, according to Grosse.
“Joe used to come over and talk,” he said. “He’ll be missed, that’s for sure.”
In a statement Tuesday, Nevada National Guard’s adjutant general, Air Force Brig. Gen. Bill Burks, said the loss of two soldiers who had served the nation and state with exemplary military service makes for a “very somber day.”
“With Nevada Guard units deployed around the world in combat, we remain mindful of the potential for casualties; to suffer two casualties in an accident right here in Nevada is especially shocking and tragic for our organization.”
Gov. Brian Sandoval also released a statement, saying, “Though (they) were flying in a civilian capacity, they are both members of our greater Nevada family. ... Each man stepped forward to serve his state and our country and their loss will be felt throughout Nevada.”
According to the Nevada Army National Guard, Edwards had served a five-month deployment to Bosnia and was previously stationed on active duty at Fort Ord, Calif., For Hood, Texas, and Germany.
His awards include three Army Achievement medals, a pending Meritorious Service Medal, three Army Good Conduct medals, two overseas service ribbons and a senior Army aviator badge. He also received Nevada’s Meritorious Service Medal, the War on Terrorism Service Medal, and the adjutant general’s outstanding graduate award.
Hall’s awards include a pending Army Commendation Medal, an Army service ribbon and National Defense Service Medal. He also received the state adjutant general’s outstanding graduate award.