Even when the steady life of endless chores still framed his days, Robert Winner knew dairy farming might not last and pondered the future.
“I may find something else to do with the rest of my life,” Winner told the Inquirer in 2001.
In September 2013, Winner, 69, found that something else in Angel Flights, a nonprofit that helps transport medical patients in need of care. Winner was embarking on an Angel Flight around 9 a.m. Wednesday, authorities said, when the plane he owned went down along Smithville-Jacksonville Road near Oxmead Road in rural Springfield Township, Burlington County.
The twin-engine, six-seat Beechcraft Baron 58 plowed through a field and across a roadway before tearing into a stand of trees, officials and witnesses said. Winner, of Evesham, and fellow passenger Timothy Scannevin of Southampton were killed.
Winner died just 11 miles from the family farm in Moorestown where he labored for decades.
“He would wake up at 3:30 in the morning and work until it was dark so he could have a nice retirement,” Winner’s son, Jeff, said Thursday. “It’s a damn shame.”
Lt. Ted Schafer, a New Jersey State Police spokesperson, said Winner and Scannevin, 71, were en route to Hyannis, Mass., to pick up a patient. The crash occurred just after takeoff and according to Maj. Brian Polite of the state police, the plane “disintegrated.”
Federal records show that Winner owned the plane and was a pilot. Scannevin was also a pilot and plane owner. It is not known who was at the controls when the plane crashed.
Jeff Winner said his father and Scannevin were friends and often flew together: “This is something that they did together. I didn’t know him well myself, but he’s obviously got the same heart as my father.”
Scannevin’s wife, Leigh Martin, said her husband “loved to fly. There’s not much else to say.”
“He was the love of my life and just the best person in the world,” she said, noting they had been together for about 40 years and had been married for the last 14 years.
Martin said that once Scannevin retired from Munich Reinsurance in Princeton after 30 years in July 2009, he flew several times a week, weather permitting. He met Winner at South Jersey Regional Airport, where they both kept their planes, Martin said at her home in Southampton. “It’s a close-knit family of pilots.”
Beyond flying, Scannevin made frequent trips to the library where he pursued his other passion, reading. “He read everything,” Martin said with a chuckle. “He probably read a book every other day.”
The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the cause of the crash.
Tim Monville, senior air safety investigator for the NTSB, said the investigation would take 12 to 18 months. “The goal of this investigation is to determine what happened, why, and how we can prevent it,” he said.
Three NTSB officials arrived Wednesday, Monville said, and were joined Thursday by Federal Aviation Admininstration officials, who join all NTSB investigations. Representatives of airframe and engine manufacturers, who are not always involved in NTSB investigations, also arrived to help determine whether there were pre-flight defects with the plane.
Monville said that the plane crashed in a field, went through trees and across the road, and came to a stop in another field. “Preliminary information tells us that the plane was airborne for about six minutes or less.” The pilot made no distress call, he said, and there was no evidence of a pre-crash fire.
The NTSB is just at the beginning stages of its investigation, Monville said, but they plan to remove the wreckage and reconstruct the plane to evaluate damage. “We will also be obtaining maintenance records, license records, and pilot training records to evaluate the experience of the pilot,” he added.
The plane took off at 9:04 a.m. A 911 call about the crash came in six minutes later. The plane was turning right before it was lost on the radar, Monville said.
According to FlightAware, a private service that tracks flights using radar and Federal Aviation Administration data, the plane took off from South Jersey Regional Airport in Lumberton, Burlington County, on Wednesday morning for a 92-minute flight to Barnstable Municipal Airport on Cape Cod.
Its flight plan called for the twin-propeller plane to hit a speed of 207 mph and an altitude of 7,000 feet. Instead, it was only airborne for slightly more than three minutes, reaching only 1,300 feet before crashing, FlightAware said.
>> READ MORE: 2 dead, plane ‘disintegrated in Burlington County crash
Ellen Williams, executive director of Angel Flight East, confirmed that the two pilots were on a nonemergency mission to transport a patient in need of medical assistance far from home, free of charge.
She said Winner, one of about 400 Angel Flight pilots, had flown 16 missions since joining in September 2013. Volunteer pilots use their own aircraft and cover all expenses on each flight. Scannevin was not an Angel Flight pilot.
Winner, who got his pilot’s license in 2008, was approved to fly multi-engine aircraft and to fly at night using instruments. He last passed a medical check in August 2016, records show.
“The fact that this happened is just so shocking,” Jeff Winner said. “He was so meticulous about everything in life and his flying. He would spend so much time making sure that plane was ready to fly, and if there was a problem he always knew how to respond.”
Winner and his wife, Susan, sold the last 70 acres of the family dairy farm in Moorestown in 2005 so it could be preserved as open space. The sale headed off a plan by Toll Bros. to buy the land from the couple for a nine-building office park.
Winner’s family began farming the land in the county in 1949, the year of Robert Winner’s birth. Robert Winner wound down the operation, selling off his 170-head cow herd even before the land sale.
Now the county operates a farmers’ market at the site on Centerton Road and has put a commercial kitchen in the family’s old farmhouse.
“He and his wife were the two nicest people you would ever want to work with,” said Mary Pat Robbie, county director of resource conservation. “They would visit the farm now and then. It was always a pleasure to see them.”
Jeff Winner said his father found great satisfaction in flying Angel Flight missions.
“My dad chose to spend his time flying people to hospitals. He didn’t have anywhere to go yesterday. He just wanted to help someone,” Jeff Winner said. “He’s got a diary of everyone he’s taken to hospitals. He was so proud of that log. It made him really happy.”
Winner also was a member of the board of the Land O’Lakes agricultural cooperative from 1997 through 2004, and served on the Land O’Lakes Foundation.
Besides his wife of 47 years and son, Winner is survived by a daughter, Amy, and three grandchildren.
Martin said her husband earned his pilot’s license in the 1980s.
She recounted the morning that her husband died.
“I thought it was just another Angel Flight. He loved to do those with Bob,” she said. “We always kiss goodbye every time he leaves.”
She heard the news of the crash first from a friend who knew just basic information of the incident, but Martin says she knew it was the plane her husband was on. “Shock. Disbelief. Just numb,” she said. “The mind doesn’t work straight anymore.”
Staff writer Michael Boren contributed to this article.