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EAA Mourns Loss of Dave Cronin, Heroic Pilot and EAAer

Dave Cronin
Photo by Marilyn Newton/Reno Gazette

October 7, 2010 — United Airlines Captain David Cronin, who successfully landed a debilitated Boeing 747 after the plane’s cargo door ripped off during United Flight 811 on February 24, 1989, saving the lives of 346 souls on board, passed away on Monday, October 4, after suffering a heart attack in Minden, Nevada. He was 81.

He was a dedicated EAA member (EAA 393379), said Timothy LoDolce, president of Truckee/Tahoe, California, EAA Chapter 1073, of which Cronin was also a longtime member and vice president.

“Dave was a very close friend,” LoDolce said. “He was not your average EAA member; he was well-above average. Dave always wanted to help, he was my mentor in many ways, and he had superb flying skills up to the present day.”

LoDolce described Dave as “a very conscientious, God-fearing man” who passed along a lot of wisdom.

Cronin, who joined United Airlines in 1954, was approaching the mandatory retirement age with the airline when flight 811 - scheduled to be his second-to-last flight - departed Honolulu, Hawaii, bound for to Auckland, New Zealand. On board were 337 passengers, 15 flight attendants, and the flight crew, also including First Officer Al Slader and Flight Engineer Mark Thomas. While climbing between 22,000 and 23,000 feet MSL over the Pacific Ocean, a forward cargo door suddenly came off, creating a large hole through which two rows of seats were ripped from the aircraft along with nine passengers.

With only two of the four engines operating, Cronin was able to return safely to Honolulu about 25 minutes later. LoDolce told the story as Cronin told it to him.

“Dave said he never had a real strong faith until then, but he said he never could have pulled it off without God’s help,” LoDolce said. “He said, ‘God, help me get these people down safe and I will serve you for the rest of my life.’ That’s what happened, and he did from that point on.”

Cronin loved EAA, and he also loved the Reno Air Races, competing in the Sport class in a Lancair Legacy for several years with LoDolce serving as his crew chief. In later years, Cronin was a ramp security volunteer. “Just this year he was riding his bicycle, showing a new EAA member around at Reno,” LoDolce said.

He is survived by four daughters.

Funeral services will be held at 1 p.m. Monday, October 11, at the Hilltop Community Church in Carson City, Nevada. Chapter 1072 will also hold a wake, including a missing man formation flight, at the Truckee Airport in the near future, LoDolce said.

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