SOUTH BEND, Ind. — People who knew former Oklahoma quarterback Steve Davis say his passion for flying began before he arrived at the school and led the Sooners to back-to-back national championships in the 1970s.
He and friend Wes Caves, a Tulsa, Okla., businessman, were the flight crew on the private jet, owned by Caves, that crashed into a northern Indiana neighborhood, National Transportation Safety Board investigator Todd Fox said Monday. Davis, 60, and Caves, 58, died. Three others were injured, including two passengers.
Fox said he had minimal information about the pilots, but said both had pilots’ certificates and both had multi-engine aircraft certificates. The voice box recorder was recovered and is being sent to Washington, D.C., for investigation, Fox said, adding that the NTSB doesn’t know why the plane was headed to South Bend.
Patsy Davis said she believed it was possible her son would have been in the co-pilot’s seat. It wasn’t immediately clear who was at the controls when it crashed.
“He hadn’t flown for a while, but as far as we know, he was still a licensed pilot. He didn’t own a plane,” she said Monday.
“He absolutely loved getting in the air,” said Deron Spoo, pastor at First Baptist Church in Tulsa, Okla., where Davis went to church.
And former Nebraska football coach Tom Osborne recalled Davis flying a small airplane to Lincoln, Neb., back in the 1970s to speak at a Fellowship of Christian Athletes banquet.
Messages left by The Associated Press for Caves’ wife and at least two others who are believed to be his family members in Tulsa were not returned Monday.
The crash occurred after two aborted attempted landings at South Bend Regional Airport, Fox said. The plane leaked enough fuel to force the evacuation of hundreds of people from surrounding homes, but most residents were allowed to return Monday morning.
“It is miraculous that there was not a greater loss of life,” South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg said.
Fox said the immediate focus of investigators is removing the fuselage from one of the homes for further investigation. A total of eight homes remain under mandatory evacuation, but South Bend Assistant Fire Chief John Corthier said residents of the five undamaged homes should be allowed to return after the fuselage is removed — likely Tuesday.
“I’m surprised people survived that,” said 84-year-old Frank Sojka, who lives in the first home that was struck. Sojka said he was in the front bedroom of the home he’s lived in for 55 years when he heard a loud, dull sound.
“I got up and went into the living room and I could see the sky through the ceiling and all kinds of debris in the far end of the living room,” he said.
The survivors of the crash were taken to South Bend Memorial Hospital. Spokeswoman Maggie Scroope said Monday that Jim Rodgers was in serious condition and Christopher Evans was in fair condition. Davis’ parents said they didn’t know the relationship between their son and Rodgers and Evans.
A woman who neighbors said lived in the middle house that was struck, Diana McKeown, was in fair condition, Scroope said. Edgar Diaz, a spokesman for the hospital, said the survivors have declined requests for media interviews.
Caves’ plane took off from Tulsa and is registered to 7700 Enterprises in Helena, Mont., which does business in Tulsa as DigiCut Systems and is owned by Caves. DigiCut Systems is in the automotive coating business.
In 2009, the company was named as a defendant in a federal lawsuit brought by a former female employee hired to be Caves’ executive assistant. She claimed sex discrimination, retaliation and wrongful discharge. Federal court records indicate the suit was settled in 2011 without going to trial.
During his football career, Steve Davis went 32-1-1 as the Sooners’ starter from 1973 to 1975, starting every game of Barry Switzer’s first three seasons as head coach. They won two national titles in Davis’ final years at the school.
Davis had joined the Tulsa church, which has about 3,600 members, a couple of decades ago, but his travels and work took him elsewhere, Spoo said. He noted that in the last few years, Davis had become a more active member of the church.
“As followers of Jesus, we have two commands: One is to love God; the other is to love people, and Steve fulfilled those commands with excellence,” he said.
Patsy Davis said her son was a loving and caring family man.
“He always hugged me and said, ‘I love you, Mom,'” she said. “He always called, but he was pretty busy so he didn’t come to Sallisaw very often.”