NEW ORLEANS — Two New Orleans community members, both dedicated to making the city a better place, lost their lives in a plane crash Friday afternoon.
WVUE FOX 8 announced Friday evening that Nancy Parker, their long-time news anchor and a fixture in New Orleans reporting, was one of the passengers who passed away in a crash south of the New Orleans Lakefront Airport around 3:05 p.m. Friday.
Parker was the sole passenger. She was creating a special report to honor the career and work of the plane's pilot, 69-year-old Franklin Augustus, who also died in the crash.
Besides being a stunt pilot and avid flyer, Augustus was a longtime community activist, a U.S. Army veteran (Military Police), the president of the Lake Charles Tuskegee Airmen Chapter and a New Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office reserve deputy.
30 years ago, Augustus described himself the "world's only black civilian air-show acrobatic pilot" in a 1988 Times-Picayune article that touched on the color barrier in New Orleans.
"I want to let the young people know that if I can make it, anybody can," he said in the article.
Though he was not a Tuskegee Airman himself, Augustus used his platform with the organization to encourage other young black children to become pilots by creating a youth aviation program in conjunction with the City of New Orleans, the Youth Eagles program and the Civil Air Patrol.
According to Tuskegee Airmen, Inc. officials, Augustus received an award for his "unselfish acts" at the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport (MSY) during a major storm.
Augustus also headed The Drug Fighter organization, which works to turn children away from crime and gang violence in New Orleans. As part of his work, Augustus dressed up as the superhero of his creation, "The Drug Fighter," and gave inspirational talks to children in the city while exposing them to flying and helping develop their math and computer skills.
He was a licensed pilot who had been flying since he was 19.
"Franklin J.P. Augustus will be greatly missed by the National Office of Tuskegee Airmen Inc., the Lake Charles Chapter, and the City of New Orleans for his lasting contributions to our organization and his community," Tuskegee officials said in a statement.
On Friday night, New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell released a statement confirming both the deaths of both Parker and Augustus.
Cantrell called Parker "an invaluable member of our community" and Augustus an accomplished pilot who "even dress[ed] as a costumed superhero of his own creation: ‘The Drug Fighter,' to deliver a message of hope, and to help combat substance abuse.”
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Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman released a statement on his passing, saying he was a strong mentor for anyone interesting in flying.
“The Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office is deeply saddened to learn about the death of OPSO Special Reserve Deputy Franklin J.P. Augustus and broadcast journalist Nancy Parker in yesterday’s plane crash.
“Mr. Augustus was an active member of the Special Reserve Deputy Unit. He regularly accompanied the Sheriff on school visits, presenting himself in costume as The Drug Fighter.
“When he was not delivering his anti-drug message, Mr. Augustus was promoting his love of flying as well as mentoring anyone with an interest in aviation.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the Augustus family as well as the Parker family. I’m sorry for your loss.”
A woman who identified herself as the niece of Augustus said her..."My uncle Frank was a devoted pilot, who love flying since I was born and before then. He will be missed for sure."
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Nancy Parker’s 30-year career in broadcast journalism, including the past 25 at WVUE Fox 8, earned her some of the industry’s top awards and a reputation as a journalist who covered hard news but with tremendous heart.
The crash was reported near Jourdan Road and Morrison Road near the Industrial Canal around 3:20 p.m. Friday. It happened just south of the New Orleans Lakefront Airport.
New Orleans officials identified the vehicle as a 1983 Pitts S-2B aircraft, a small, two-seater aerobatic plane. Federal investigators believe the plane had engine issues shortly after takeoff and Augustus had radioed in to the airport control tower to turn around and land.
A city official called the crash "quite catastrophic" and said a fire engulfed the plane after it hit the ground. First responders attempted to rescue the victims but were inhibited by the fire, the official said.
No other injuries and no damage to the surrounding area were reported.