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Mon, Nov 12, 2007

Aerostar Downed In California Claims Ex-POW

Former Naval Pilot Lost After POW Speaking Engagement

A former prisoner of war who survived being shot down over North Vietnam plane went down Friday along with two others when a Piper Aerostar was lost in California's Central Valley. Cole Black, a former Navy captain from Escondido, was aboard the twin-engine plane that went down in an orange grove in a rural area near Delano, his wife, Karen Black, told The Associated Press.

The Piper Aerostar 602P (file illustrations below) took off from Roseburg, Ore., about 75 miles southwest of Eugene, said a spokeswoman for Meadows Field Airport in Bakersfield. It was heading to McClellan Palomar Airport in north San Diego County to drop off Black (pictured right), his wife said in a story by The Bakersfield Californian.

The plane was being piloted by Bruce Klein, the paper reported. Black, 74, who was shot down and then nearly seven years in a prison camp was heading home after speaking to students in Oregon this week about his experience as a POW.

The accident is being investigated by the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration.

Also lost on the flight was Klein, who lives in Oregon and owns several pizza restaurants, and Sally S. Wilson, a retired school teacher from Oakland, the News-Review newspaper in Oregon reported. At a reunion marking the 20-year anniversary of the POWs' release, Black expressed regret over a flying maneuver that changed his life.

Black was flying an F-8 Crusader when he was shot down over North Vietnam in 1966. He was jailed in a torturous prisoner of war camp nicknamed the Hanoi Hilton for nearly seven years.

"If I had turned right instead of left, I wouldn't have got shot down. Everybody goes through life doing things you sometimes say, 'I shouldn't have done that.' The penalty isn't too bad in some cases but it was pretty bad in that case," Black was quoted saying in an AP story. Cole remained in the military despite his POW experience and became executive officer of Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego, then a Naval attaché for Mexico and Central America, Karen Black said.

Cole retired from the military in 1986, and pursued a career in real estate. He spoke often to civic groups about his experience in Vietnam, and remained close with other POWs, said his wife.

"He was not bitter about what he went through," she said. "He was among a group of men who believed in honor and country." Cole's 75th birthday was coming up on Nov. 27, and his friends had been raising money to have his name painted on a plane he had flown on and is now displayed at the USS Midway Museum in San Diego.

"It would have been a nice tribute," she said.



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