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Glider pilot killed in crash, friend recalls moment he knew something was wrong

KINGS COUNTY, Calif. - The local aviation community is in mourning as they remember one of their own.

59-years-old Jan Zanutto, died in a glider crash Saturday, just after 7:30 p.m.

The Kings County Sheriff's Office said the crash happened about seven miles west of the City of Avenal.

We spoke with people from Zanutto's church. They said his wife and family are still processing their heartbreaking loss.

None were ready to speak on camera.

But Dan Gudgel, a friend of Zanutto's who we spoke with over the phone, said he was a fine aviator and good man.

"It is sad, it's been a very melancholic day for me because of the loss," Gudgel, an aviation consultant, said.

Saturday, officials said Zanutto was out flying a single-place glider.

But shortly after 7:30 officials said they received a call regarding an overdue glider pilot from the Avenal Glider Port.

Gudgel recounting the moments leading up to the death of his friend, a well-known aviation mechanic and pilot.

"He was just flying longer than what we thought he was going to fly," he said.

Gudgel said he was texting with the co-owner of Zanutto's glider, who was out on the scene.

"We began to grow concern that he was overdue and then it got to the point where it was obvious he was not still flying," he expressed. 

Gudgel said they thought there was a malfunction with Zanutto's radio that didn't allow him to communicate.

But hours later the glider wreckage was spotted.

He said officials also thought they saw a parachute.

"We thought that well maybe he got out but it was around 1 o'clock in the morning before Kings County Sheriff Deputies could reach the spot and at that point they confirmed that it was fatal," Gudgel said.

He said Zanutto's death is a tragic loss not only for the aviation community but for those who knew him.

"It could have been any of us, he's a very fine Christian gentleman, he was always helping other people," Gudgel said.

Kings County Sheriff's Office said the crash remains under investigation.

Gudgel said the National Transportation Safety Board will also be looking into the crash.


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