One of the two pilots killed Wednesday night near Richmond, along with Republican Senate candidate Richard D. Obenshain, was giving his time and his plane to Obenshain's campaign when his Piper Seneca crashed and exploded in a stand of trees.
Richard F. Neel, 42, a certified public accountant who lived in Alexandria, was described yesterday by pilots who had flown with as a "very cautiuos, veru conservative pilot who would never do anything to jeopardize his life or anyone with him."
The Federal Aviation Administration yesterday identified the second pilot as Ronald Allen Edelen of Camp Springs in Prince George's County, a registered flight instructor. The FAA said it was not known which man was at the controls at the time of the crash.
Neel had flown Obenshain on several trips since the Republican nominating convention in June, according to Neel's wife.
The FAA said the plane, owned by Neel and a man named John Purdy, operated from Lease American Corp., which the agency said is based at National Airport.
A light twin-engined model with a passenger capacity of six and a top speed of 189 miles an hour, the plane carried Republican senatorial aspirant John Warner and his wife, Elizabeth Taylor Warner, to several political engagements earlier this year.
Last summer, during his campaign, Gov. John Dalton flew in the same plane from Arlington to Roanoke, Va. Neel did not pilot the plane on those trips.
A private pilot with about 700 hours of flying time, Neel was a successful businessman whose accounting firm recently moved into the new Pinecrest Office Building in Alexandria, a building Neel co-owned.
Neel was a long-time supporter of Republican candidates in Virginia, according to friends, and lent his plane to his favorite candidates as a political contribution.
Most of the time, according to William J. Pagnella, a pilot who flew more than 20 times with Neel, the accountant would lend his plane and hire a pilot to fly it. But on occasion, as happened Wednesday night, Neel himself would fly.
Neel, who was not licensed to fly with instruments in bad weather, took along another pilot, a registered flight instructor from the Washington area whose identity was still being withheld yesterday pending notification of relatives. With the instructor aboard, Neel, who needed about 40 hours of instrument flight time for certification, was following Federal Aviation Administration guidelines.
The plane left Winchester after the instructor had filed an instrument flight regulations IFR flight plan. When it neared its destination, Neel asked the control tower at Chesterfield County Airport if he could dispense with an instrument landing because visibility was good, Virginia state police said yesterday.
The airport reported visibility around 11 p.m. of nearly 20 miles. Neel told airport when he was about 12 minutes from touchdown that he could see the landing field, police said.
At 11:10 p.m., the plane crashed into a wooded area about one-half mile northwest of the airport. It traveled 304 feet through trees, police said, and burst into flames when it stopped.
The FAA, which yesterday could not established a cause for the crash, said Neel made no calls of distress before the crash.
Trooper Donald C. Osborne, who arrived at the crash scene at 11:20 p.m., said all three passengers were in the burning plane and there was no chance of pulling any of them out. Osborne, a former undertaker, discounted the reports of one witness who said she saw a man in the plane wave his arm and groan.
Osborne said any movements from the charred bodies were involuntary muscular reactions.
Neel was a former president of the Alexandria Boys Club and current member of the club's board of directors, according to his long-time friend William Stanhagen, an Alexandria lawyer and businessman.
A former member of the Fairfax County Republican Committee, Neel served on finance committee for several Northern Virginia Republican office seekers.
Neel is survived by his wife Sharon; a son, Ricky, 20, who attends the University of Virginia, and two daughters, Liz, 18, who graduated this year from Groveton High School and Carol, 16, who will be a senior at Groveton High in the fall.