William Beer, known to his friends as Bill, was killed Friday in Kayenta, Ariz., when an ultra light aircraft he was flying crashed to the ground. He was 71.
According to his wife, Sue, Bill was flying at 2,220 feet when a witness said the nose of the plane turned up and then "took a nose dive to the ground."
Sue Beer said the engine had not quit. "It looked like Bill fell forward onto the control bar. He was ready to pull the ballistics chute, but he didn't."
She said Bill's brother John, who went to the site of the crash, thought Bill may have had a stroke or a heart attack.
Bill Beer had been flying the ultra light planes for four or five years, according to his wife. He had flown a lot, she said, including from California to Arizona, from Arizona to St. Louis and from St. Louis to Canada.
Bill Beer, who was born in Utah, had a dream "to fly the four corners area (Utah, Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado) back to the canyons that he loved," his wife said.
Beer was a multifaceted man who had authored several books, including "We Swam the Grand Canyon," a feat he accomplished in 1955.
The Beers came to the Virgin Islands in 1965 with their daughter, Barrie Jean, and their 65-foot Alden schooner named "True Love." The boat was featured in the 1956 film "High Society" that starred Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby and Grace Kelly.
Their son, Ben Beer, who was born in St. Thomas, is in Weymouth, England, representing the Virgin Islands in the 2000 Finn World Championship sailing competition, competing for a place in the Sidney 2000 Olympics.
Bill Beer captained "True Love" both for term charters and later for day sail charters. He eventually gave up running the boat himself.
Maxine Lavitt, who for 10 years captained "True Love," said, "Bill was bigger than life. When a man like Bill dies, it leaves a void that big too. He was the original adventurer. His spirit taught me a lot of life's important lessons."
The boat was sold in 1999.
Another of Beer's talents was piano tuning, something he learned to do for his wife, who was a concert pianist.
For about 16 years the Beers welcomed friends on Sunday afternoons into their home where they held mini concerts performed by visiting pianists and musicians.
"We called it Reichhold East," Sue Beer said.
The concerts included classical performances as well as jazz, according to a neighbor and friend of the Beers, jazz critic Harry Illingworth.
"Bill was doing what he loved when he died," Sue Beer said.
Bill Beer is survived by his wife, Sue; his daughter, Barrie Jean Hibler; son Benjamin Beer; his father, Kenneth; two sisters, Dorothy Lodato and Fran Kristofferson; and his brother, John.
A memorial service will be held at a time and place to be announced.