Capt. David D. Willey: 1947-2008

He was the favorite pilot, the one we all knew. Truthfully we only knew him by his first name — Dave. But he was the one we hoped would be in the cockpit whenever we climbed aboard one of those little nine-seater Cape Air planes. When he was there, we would instinctively relax in his presence. He was confident, smiling and somehow familiar even though we couldn’t tell you why.

But now we know the reason. Capt. David D. Willey was one of us; he was an Islander and we were his precious cargo. And he always got us home safely. Or to Boston or Providence or Nantucket or New Bedford. When Dave was in the cockpit we always knew we would be okay.

So when the news trickled out in the rain and darkness on Friday night that there had been a plane crash in the woods of West Tisbury, that it was a Cape Air flight, that the only person who had been on board was the pilot, that he was an experienced pilot who lived on the Vineyard, all anyone could think was the unthinkable: was it him, the favorite pilot, the one who had a word to say about the Sox and the Patriots, the one everyone knew and liked so much?

It was.

And of course it turns out there was so much about him that we didn’t know.

That he was a respected aviator who was widely admired by pilots and air traffic controllers alike. That he had flown famine relief to South Sudan and Ethiopia. That he had flown a swordfish spotter plane. That he had captained a crippled Boeing 747 to a safe landing in South Korea after the plane blew a tire on takeoff, jamming the wing flaps and causing a loss of hydraulics.

That he had changed his career three and a half years ago so he could be closer to home, where he had the most precious cargo of all: a wife and three children.

A memorial celebration of Capt. David Willey’s life will be held this afternoon at two o’clock the Agricultural Hall In West Tisbury. And at this sad and difficult time the Gazette sends out its deepest sympathies to his family and friends, which includes every person who ever climbed aboard a Cape Air plane when Captain Willey was in the cockpit.