Timothy Cowper ate with friends and fellow pilots at the Plateau Sky Ranch airport Sunday afternoon.
Just before 4 p.m., he took off from the grass runway in a single-seat aerobatic biplane. Less than a mile away, he crashed in a wooded area and the small aircraft burst into flames.
Cowper, 55, of Middle Grove, died in the crash, just feet from Tange Road in Edinburg. He was a senior investigator with the New York State Police, off duty at the time of the crash.
He was also an avid pilot and on the day he died, Cowper was on a poker run with a number of pilot friends. A group of small aircraft enthusiasts from Fulton, Montgomery and Saratoga counties meet regularly as the Adirondack chapter of the national Experimental Aircraft Association.
A poker run is a game in which pilots fly to various small airports collecting stamps. According to Edinburg Town Justice Doug Sterling, also an EAA member, the group had a cookout at Plateau to finish the day before flying home.
Out of respect for the Cowper family, Sterling did not comment further, but Saratoga County Airport Business Manager John Zilkay confirmed the group landed on his runway Sunday.
“People sometimes do poker runs out here,” he said. “There are a whole slew of small, private airports in this area.”
An investigation by the Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board is just beginning, but the actual crash scene was cleared Monday.
A tow truck left Tange Road with the charred wreckage of Cowper’s Pitts S-1 aircraft strapped to the flatbed. Bent metal and a piece of prop jutted out below shipping tarps.
Around noon, state troopers and firefighters removed roadblocks and coiled crime scene tape, opening Tange Road less than 24 hours after the crash.
Cowper’s body was removed Sunday night following a coroner’s examination and the blackened steel aircraft frame was lifted from the trees Monday. What’s left of the frame was being shipped to Latham for NTSB inspection, according to state troopers on the scene.
State police Maj. Steven James said Sunday evening that witnesses described some sort of mechanical failure before the aircraft lost altitude. This has yet to be substantiated by official aircraft investigators.
FAA officials said Monday they will aid in the investigation, but the NTSB is in charge of determining the cause of the crash.
Officials at State Police Troop G Headquarters in Latham could not comment on whether alcohol or drug tests will be conducted on Cowper.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo released a statement Monday in memory of Cowper. “Through his years of service, he helped make New York state safer for families just like his,” he said.
State Police Superintendent Joseph D’Amico said in a statement Monday that Cowper was a 30-year veteran of the state police, serving mostly in the Capital Region. He was promoted to the rank of senior investigator in 2006.
Cowper is survived by his wife, Chris; daughters Ryan and Jade; and son Zachary. He leaves behind his father, Thomas Cowper, and three brothers who also spent decades in law enforcement: New York State Police Staff Inspector Thomas Cowper, retired State Trooper Tod Cowper; and retired Schenectady Police Detective Terry Cowper.
There are as yet no announced funeral arrangements.