The Benefits of Retirement...
Near Fillmore, California
May 29, 1971
A Distinguished Career...
When Richard Hunziker graduated from the University of Arizona at Tucson with a bachelor of science degree, he probably would not have guessed that the career he would embark upon would end so long and meritorious. He would go on to earned his pilot wings, and a commission as a second lieutenant, in 1942.
During World War II, he served as a P-40 and P-47 fighter pilot in Africa, Italy, France, Sicily, Malta and Corsica with the 57th Fighter Group, completing more than 200 combat missions, and being credited with shooting down two enemy aircraft.
After the war, in June 1948, he was assigned to U.S. Air Forces in Europe as a squadron commander and deputy commander, 36th Fighter Group, and commander of the 86th Fighter Group in Germany.
A series of promotions, educational opportunities, and increases in responsibility would conclude with his taking of the office as deputy inspector general for inspection and safety, headquartered at Norton Air Force Base in California.
A year before retirement the general was making headlines as the officer in charge of over 400 men, assigned the task of locating a cargo of A-bombs which were lost in the crash of a B-52 bomber on the Greenland icecap in the arctic winter.
By this time, he was a two-star General in the Air Force, and having received the Distinguished Service Medal, America's highest military decoration for non-combat service.
His military decorations also include the Silver Star, Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross with two oak leaf clusters, Air Medal with 13 oak leaf clusters, Air Force Commendation Medal, the French Croix de Guerre with Palm, and the French Croix de Guerre with Star. He was a jet rated command pilot with more than 6,800 flying hours and wore the Senior Missileman Badge.
Out to Pasture...
But, seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, General Hunziker retired on September 1st, 1969. He and his wife, Margaret, retired to the southern California town of Carpinteria.
In mid-May of 1971, the couple decided to fly their white and red Cessna 182, registered as N2147G, south to visit Mexican border towns. On the afternoon of May 29th, 1971, Hunziker got a weather briefing, and took off with his wife from Calexico, to return to their home airport of Santa Barbara. During the flight, their plane encountered poor visibility, and vanished in the mountains northwest of Los Angeles.
Despite not having filed a flight plan, the sheriff's offices of San Diego and Santa Barbara counties provided planes to aid the search, which was centered in the San Jacinto and San Bernadrino mountain ranges midway between the Mexican border and the California coast. Civil Air Patrol planes flew search patterns over the Borrego Pass area west of the Salton Sea, along with one Air Force plane all the way from Hamilton Field in northern California.
Major Don K. Domeyer, of Huntington Beach, piloted his own plane out of the search base at Chino, with Lt. Nick Dibs, of Lakewood, as his observer. The pair of Long Beach CAP officers, both with Air Rescue Squadron 150, located Hunziker's plane on Sunday, June 6th, over a week after the General's plane went missing. It had crashed into a thicket of trees on Hines Peak, near the rugged Sespe Hot Springs wilderness area in Los Padres National Forest.
Too Little Too Late...
When ground crews reached the crash site the following day, they found both still strapped in the seat of the cockpit, having both apparently died instantly from possible massive internal injuries. It appeared that Hunziker tried to miss the peak, but the plane did not have enough power and it crashed "belly" first.
The bodies were removed from the wreck, and airlifted to Conover Field in Lockwood Valley, then taken to a mortuary in Santa Paula.
The NTSB concluded the probable cause of the crash was the pilot-in-command's continued VFR flight into adverse weather conditions, due to low ceilings, and likely downdrafts or updrafts.