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Joseph D. Loney dies; pilot, engineer was 66

Joseph D. Loney may have seemed to have a daredevil streak -- from guiding his Cessna through the clouds to scuba diving in underwater caves 150 feet deep.

But that sense of adventure was more a passion to learn, said Loney's brother-in-law and close friend, Ken O'Reilly. The longtime Long Islander had been flying for 35 years and was "one of the most thorough and safe aviators I've ever met in my life," O'Reilly said.

On April 1, Loney died in a plane crash in Florida while flying a Bedecorp BD-22L, a kit-built light sport airplane that had logged only one hour of operating time, according to the National Transportation Safety Board's crash report. It was Loney's first time in the plane's cockpit, the NTSB report said, and he was only to do high-speed taxi tests that day to familiarize himself with the aircraft.

"He was very safe, and he must have thought the airplane was ready, otherwise he wouldn't have taken it up," O'Reilly said. "He said that to his wife -- nothing's going to go wrong, the airplane is put together by professionals."

Shortly after takeoff, according to the NTSB, witnesses said the plane was flying "unstable and . . . fast." One witness told the NTSB that "when the airplane turned on to the final leg of the traffic pattern, it 'violently pitched up and down' and then began a nose-down descent" before crashing.

Loney was killed in the crash, which took place at St. Lucie County Airport in Fort Pierce, Florida. He was 66.

Loney, formerly of Dix Hills, was born in Manchester, Connecticut, on Nov. 16, 1948, the only child of Joseph and Elsie Loney. He grew up in Connecticut and attended Union College in Schenectady, where he was a quarterback for the football team and graduated with a bachelor's degree in engineering.

After graduation, he was drafted to serve in the Vietnam War and worked for the Army Security Agency, which ran the Army's signal intelligence branch. Loney worked in classified communications, O'Reilly said.

After two years' service, Loney got a job with Sperry Marine on Long Island, where he lived for the next 40 years, O'Reilly said. Loney was a senior engineering supervisor and created navigation systems for ballistic missiles and submarines, O'Reilly said.

"Those missiles, in order to launch and hit their target, they have to have a very accurate navigation system and that's what he designed," he said.

He met his wife, Cindy, a nurse, on a blind date, and they married in 1984. Cindy had two sons from a previous marriage, and Loney helped raise them like his own, O'Reilly said.

After retiring in 1997, he went to Dowling College and got a master's in business administration, then managed properties across Long Island before moving to Port St. Lucie, Florida, with his wife a few years ago, O'Reilly said.

He was a certified scuba diver and explored exotic spots around the world. But his true passion, O'Reilly said, was flying -- he was a safety officer for the Federal Aviation Administration and a frequent flying instructor.

A month before he died, O'Reilly and Loney had talked on the phone, Loney trying to coax his flying pal out of his retirement from aviation, telling him about the kit-built airplane he was going to pilot. It was the first and last time he would ever fly one.

"That's why I'm curious why he did decide this in this late stage in life," O'Reilly said. "This is a sad loss, not just for me, but everyone . . . who knew him."

Loney's ashes were placed at South Florida National Cemetery in Lake Worth, Florida.

In addition to his wife, he is survived by his two sons, Gary Yerkes, 42, of Manhattan, and Shawn Yerkes, 40, of Walnut Creek, California, and a granddaughter.

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