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‘A good man’: Retired fighter pilot killed in plane crash helped fellow veterans

Updated August 1, 2022 - 5:23 pm

Ross Scanio, a battle-hardened former fighter pilot and retired Marine Corps lieutenant colonel, had transformed his plight with PTSD into a quest to aid other veterans with similar experiences.

Late last year, Scanio launched a business he called “Adrenaline Therapy,” using a pair of Humvee vehicles to lead desert excursions, in order to help spark joy for struggling veterans.

He had also hoped to put fellow veterans in the cockpit as passengers of his single-engine acrobatic airplane while dashing through Southern Nevada’s skies.

Scanio was the sole occupant in the aircraft when it crashed near the Boulder City airport on July 3. The Henderson resident died at the scene. He was 58.

“His project was finally taking off, literally,” his daughter, Amber Koehler, said in a phone interview. “He was taken too soon.”

Koehler has found solace with the hundreds of messages and calls she received from mourners, many of whom she did not know prior to her father’s death.

“That just goes to show what an incredible man he was, not just a father,” she said. “It makes me really happy to see that he truly did touch so many people.”

Ray Lee Bennett II, a fellow Marine who befriended her father a few years ago in Arizona, was one of the veterans who reached out.

Bennett, who runs a scuba diving group with the same mission as “Adrenaline Therapy,” described Scanio as being “completely engaged” with veterans, and the community as a whole.

“It’s a huge loss to our community,” Bennett added.

Scanio’s last flight took off from Henderson Executive Airport at 8:44 a.m. The EXTRA EA-300 was reported down in the desert five minutes later, according to a preliminary National Transportation Safety Board investigation.

“He was practicing one of his routines in the air when the tragedy took place,” Koehler said. “He was a huge adrenaline junkie up until his last few minutes on earth.”

Koehler described her father as a kind and fun-to-be-around man of Christian faith and “your typical wild marine.”

“He’s a good man,” she added.

Scanio was born in rural New York and grew up in Chicago. He earned a biology degree and reached the rank of officer out of graduation from Hastings College in Nebraska. Later in life, he earned a master’s in theology at Grand Canyon University.

The decorated Marine, who retired from the military in 2005 after 20 years, flew the F/A-18 Hornet and participated in more than 100 missions spanning from Operation Desert Storm in Kuwait to Operation Iraqi Freedom, Koehler said.

In his military career, he also became a captain for United Airlines, Koehler said.

“I think the best hour I ever spent in the cockpit of an F-18 was on the border of Kuwait (and Iraq) with a Marine unit,” Scanio recently told Morning Reveille, a veteran-centered media outlet in Arizona.

In the interview, Scanio also spoke about his struggles transitioning back into civilian life. After his retirement from the military, he isolated himself from loved ones until he sought treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder.

“He was so proud to have served his country despite the struggles that came along with it after returning home,” Koehler said.

Emboldened by the therapy sessions, he began aligning himself with peer support groups, his daughter said.

He worked for organizations, including the Marine Corps League, Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association.

An organization that used skydiving as a coping mechanism sparked his idea for “Adrenaline Therapy,” Koehler said.

She admires her father’s military career, but will most remember him for the “Disney World” childhood he provided for his kids, the same one she hoped he would also give her 1-year-old son Max.

“He was so happy to finally be a grandfather, and seeing him like he was — of course, as active as ever — kind of bending the rules” was a pleasure, she said.

She will cherish the videos she took during his last visit to her home in Texas earlier this year, in which they swam and laughed, and he cared for his grandson.

She said that her son could look at the footage in the future “to see how full of life he was.”

“He’s definitely still here with us in spirit,” she said. “He was so full of life to not be, and that’s how we’ll always remember him.”

Services will take place in Texas in the coming days, and Scanio will receive a military funeral in the fall, Koehler said.

A previous version of this story misstated Scanio’s military rank.

Contact Ricardo Torres-Cortez at rtorres@reviewjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter @rickytwrites.

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