Editors note: On Sept. 19, 1998, traffic helicopter pilot Alan Barklage was critically injured in the crash of his miniature helicopter. He died of his injuries on Sept. 25. Here is our original coverage of that story.
Allen Barklage, a traffic helicopter pilot who was shot down in Vietnam and killed a hijacker during a prison-break scheme, died Friday (Sept. 25, 1998) of injuries from the crash of his own small helicopter on Sept. 19. Mr. Barklage, 50, of St. Charles, was pronounced dead at 12:36 p.m. Friday at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, where he had been in critical condition and on life support since the crash. At the request of the family, the hospital did not announce his death until nearly 1 p.m. Saturday.
Mr. Barklage had been an on-air traffic reporter for local television and radio stations for 28 years. At the time of his death, he worked for KSDK-TV (Channel 5) and radio stations KEZK-FM and KFNS-AM.
Larry Barklage, one of Mr. Barklage's brothers, said his brother suffered severe head injuries and never regained consciousness. As he announced his brother's death Saturday at the hospital, Larry Barklage said he would cherish his memories of flying with Allen Barklage.
"We often hear about people who live every day like it was their last, but Allen was the only person I've known to really do that," said Larry Barklage, who also is a helicopter pilot. "He wanted to fly helicopters; he wanted to do traffic reports; he wanted to meet people. He got to do t hose things, and I always admired him for that."
On the family's behalf, Larry Barklage thanked the people of the St. Louis area for their encouragement, prayers, cards and wishes. "I know Allen touched a lot of people in St. Louis. He loved his job. He loved this city," said Larry Barklage.
At the hospital press conference, the usually competitive television crews pulled the TV logos off their microphones as a show of respect for Mr. Barklage. "If you had to fly, you wanted to fly with Allen," said Walt Williamson, a camera operator for KTVI-TV (Channel 2).
Mr. Barklage had been at the controls of helicopters for about 32,000 hours, or more than 3 1/2 years of his life. He joined the Army after graduating from Northwest High School in House Springs in 1966, flew Huey gunships and scout helicopters during two tours in Vietnam and was shot down several times without serious injury.
On Sept. 19, he crashed his Revolution Mini-500, a one-person helicopter that he built from a kit, shortly after he took off from St. Louis Downtown-Parks Airport in Cahokia. He built the $28,000 kit in 1997 and flew the 850-pound machine as a hobby. He had taken off that day to head for a promotional appearance in St. Peters.
Federal accident investigators believe the Mini-500's two-cylinder engine failed. Relatives and fellow pilots said that Mr. Barklage, a veteran of many controlled crash landings and an instructor pilot, lost control of his descent when he tried to avoid power lines. The helicopter plunged into a soybean field near the airport. Friends said he probably was attempting an "autorotation," or use of the free-spinning rotor to slow the machine's descent, much like a spinner toy or a maple-tree seed.
Mr. Barklage had successfully crash-landed Army and private helicopters using that method and taught the technique to other pilots, friends said.
His voice was well-known to local commuters, but he probably is most admired for his struggle in the air with a hijacker on May 24, 1978, over the Federal Penitentiary at Marion, Ill. He had taken Barbara Oswald of Richmond Heights on what she had billed as a trip to view some farmland near Cape Girardeau, Mo.
But just south of Chester, Ill., Oswald pulled a .44-caliber pistol, pointed it at Mr. Barklage's neck and said, "Fly east. We're going to Marion." On his low-level approach to the prison, Mr. Barklage grabbed the pistol, and when she reached for another in her seat, he fired five times, killing Oswald.
Among the three inmates she tried to free was the man she loved, Garrett Brock Trapnell, a bank robber and jewel thief who was serving time for hijacking a TWA jet in 1972. He died in 1993.
Mr. Barklage went to work for Fostaire Helicopters Inc. in Cahokia shortly after he left the Army in 1971. He was flying for Fostaire when Oswald hired him, and moved shortly afterward to Helicopters Inc. in Cahokia. Helicopters Inc. owns the Bell Jet Ranger that Mr. Barklage used for his traffic reports.
Rodger Brand, the traffic-helicopter pilot for KMOX radio, estimated he flew 2,000 hours with Mr. Barklage. If an assignment called for a tight situation, Brand said, "you knew Allen was the guy who could do it. It just seemed the helicopter was part of him."
Steve Lieber, president of Helicopters Inc., also called Mr. Barklage "a natural. He loved to fly. He worked five days a week, up early to fly traffic, and then on his time off, he'd say, `I think I'll go fly.' "
Lieber said Mr. Barklage was "an all-around enjoyable guy."
He said Mr. Barklage liked flying his Mini-500, a craft that has a mixed reputation in aviation circles. His was the fifth fatal wreck in one of them. Revolution Helicopters Inc. in Excelsior Springs, Mo., north of Kansas City, has shipped about 500 of its Mini-500 kits.
Mr. Barklage had several other close scrapes, rescues and exploits. In September 1977, he flew for the Coast Guard through bad weather to help direct rescues after flash floods in Kansas City. The following February, he had to land during a traffic flight when exhaust smoke filled the compartment.
In 1981, he flew an infant to a hospital after he noticed an auto accident in Cahokia. He escaped injury in March 1988, when he and another pilot crashed a helicopter leased by Channel 2 that went into a spin shortly after they took off from Parks airport.
In June 1991, he rescued a man who had attempted suicide by jumping into the Mississippi River from the Poplar Street Bridge. And, on July 28, Mr. Barklage rescued two people who had fallen from a boat in the Miss issippi River near Granite City. He flew to the scene and, hovering just downstream from them, "pushed" them to shore with his rotor wash.
Mr. Barklage and his wife, Chris, attended Church on the Rock in St. Peters.
In addition to Mr. Barklage's wife, among survivors are two daughters, Shelley Bartlett of Ozark, Ala., and Sheryl Akin of Shaw Air Force Base, S.C.; a son, Cory Barklage of Fort Campbell, Ky.; his parents, William Earl Barklage and Audrey Barklage of House Springs; two brothers, Larry Barklage of O'Fallon, Mo., and Richard Barklage of House Springs; a grandmother, Eva Barklage of Maryland Heights, and two grandchildren.