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‘Hero' pilot former Valley resident

January 12, 2002|By Aaron Claverie, Staff Writer

BUENA PARK — Clint Ochodnicky said he "saved our lives."

George Crowe said, "If he'd been in the military, he'd have received a medal for what he did."

Last week, the Orange County Register published two stories about a Jan. 5 plane crash that killed Donald Dirian, a 69-year-old Federal Aviation Administration consultant piloting the plane.

Dirian was a former engineer at Naval Air Facility El Centro.

Crash observers called Dirian a hero because he guided his aircraft to the only area where he could avoid hitting people or densely packed buildings, according to the Register.

The Imperial Valley Press published an Associated Press wire story on the crash.

Ochodnicky was quoted by the Register as saying that Dirian spared his life and the life of his 10-month-old son after the nearly 70-year-old pilot banked his Cessna hard at the last second, plunging nose-first into the small empty lot and avoiding crashing into Ochodnicky's hotel room.

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In a followup article, Crowe, a former business colleague of Dirian's at Fullerton Municipal Airport, praised Dirian for bringing the Cessna 337 Skymaster down in a small deserted lot amid rows of homes and businesses.

Dirian died on impact in the firey crash.

Carole Lackey of El Centro thinks Valleyites should know that the man who has been described as heroic for his final act was a former Imperial Valley resident and friend to many here.

She worked with Dirian at NAF El Centro.

Lackey said Dirian lived and worked in El Centro for "many, many years."

"I believe his children were born here," she said.

In the '70s, Lackey said, Dirian headed up research and development at the National Parachute Test Range at NAF.

Lackey said Dirian was a GS-14 (supergrade) engineer in charge of testing ejection seats.

He was transferred to Ridgecrest's Naval Air Weapons Station around 1984, Lackey remembers.

"I think (Dirian) deserves a more complete story because many of us worked for him and NAF and knew his wife and children," Lackey said.

After leaving the military service, Dirian lived in Whittier with his wife and owned his own firm, Consulting Aerospace Engineers Inc. He had an office at Fullerton Municipal Airport.

Dirian advised businesses how to make their aircraft safe enough to pass inspections.

Full text of the Register's stories on the investigation into the crash can be found on www.ocregister.com

>> Staff Writer Aaron Claverie can be reached at 337-3419 or claverie7@hotmail.com

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