Helicopter crash victim remembered as adventurous

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CALLAWAY COUNTY - The parents of the St. Peters man who died in a helicopter crash east of Fulton said their son "absolutely loved flying."

"Charles was all over the place. He was a Civil War re-enactor, a World War II re-enactor. I mean, if he thought about it, if he read about it, he would want to do it and he'd try it. He wasn't afraid to try anything, I guess," said his mother, Joan Prather.

His father, Charles Prather Sr., said his son was a history buff, military veteran and commercial airline pilot, though he did not fly commercial jets. 

After visiting a few air shows with his father, Charles Prather Jr. came home and told his parents he wanted to take flying lessons. 

"And so he gathered up some money and he took some flying lessons. And then it was onward. He loved it. He absolutely loved flying," Joan Prather said. 

Prather Jr. eventually qualified as a bush pilot and had flown in Alaska, his parents said. 

He served in the Navy, the Naval Reserve, the Air National Guard and the Air Force Reserve.

After retiring from the Air Force Reserve, Prather Jr., who was single, decided he wanted to try flying helicopters. He was working toward his license and would have likely taken his certification test by the end of the month, his parents said Tuesday. 

Prather Jr. was the only person on the helicopter when it crashed Oct. 17 around 2:30 p.m., according to the Callaway County Sheriff's Office.

Charlie Duchek, a helicopter flight instructor from the St. Louis area, who has been teaching since 1991, said though Prather Jr.was not a licensed helicopter pilot, he would have been able to fly alone.

People pursuing their license to fly a helicopter need 10 hours of flight time by themselves, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. Three hours must include cross-country flight training.

"Usually your flight instructor will sit down with you and have you map out exactly, you know, where you're going on your solo cross-country flights," said Duchek, who in the past administered the test. "You'll need a special signoff in your logbook authorizing you to make that flight and that it's been reviewed by your flight instructor." 

The purpose of having people who are learning their license fly without anyone else on board is to build confidence, Duchek said. 

Prather Jr.'s parents said he had already finished his cross-country flights in anticipation of getting his license. 

The helicopter Prather Jr. was flying crashed in a remote area of Callaway County north of Bartley Lane, the sheriff's office said. 

"He tried calling me on my iPhone shortly before he died, but I didn't have access to the phone," Prather Sr. said.

Prather Sr. added: "He always called me from the helicopter when he was flying, and he would let me know."

Callaway County Sheriff Clay Chism said the FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board arrived on scene Thursday and stayed through Saturday. 

Eric Weiss, a spokesman for the NTSB, said the agency's investigation is still in the fact-finding phase. 

"They would document the wreckage in the accident scene, interview any witnesses,review radar data, review air traffic control tapes, look at weather reports and other meteorological information and try to put together a history of the flight," Weiss said.

He said the agency will release a preliminary report in the coming days. 

Prather Jr.'s parents said their son was learning from the helicopter flight school HeliSat, which is based in Moscow Mills. 

A woman who declined to provide her name on the phone said the company had no comment.

"None," she said. 

Prather Jr.'s parents held a visitation Wednesday evening. A memorial service was scheduled for Thursday, according to his obituary.   

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