Two small planes carrying six members of the same family collide in mid-air near Ritzville, killing three, on May 24, 1987.

  • By Jim Kershner
  • Posted 4/14/2010
  • Essay 9400

The family takes off in a Cessna 172 and a Piper Cherokee P-28 from Pru Field at Ritzville, en route to a holiday at Hayden Lake, Idaho. The planes fly side by side before they collide. The Cessna goes into a nose-dive and crashes in rocky country 15 miles east of Ritzville, killing all aboard. The Piper Cherokee makes it back to the Ritzville airport safely.

Ritzville Mourns

Nearly the entire population of Ritzville turned out for the memorial service four days later for Kenneth Sager, 41, his wife Gloria Sager, 40, and their daughter, Karla Sager, 15, at the Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Ritzville.

The three died when their Cessna collided in mid-air with a Piper Cherokee piloted by Gloria Sager's father, Earl Moritz of Ephrata. Moritz's wife, Ann Moritz and the Sager's son, Kirk Sager, 19, were passengers in the Piper Cherokee.

Gloria Sager was the manager of Ritzville's Washington Mutual bank branch, Kenneth Sager was a lineman for the Grant County Public Utilities District, and Karla Sager was a freshman at Ritzville High School.

"We knew them all," said the Adams County sheriff ("Service").

A Family Outing

The day had begun as a family outing. The two planes took off from Pru Field at Ritzville, en route to Hayden Lake, Idaho. Moritz told investigators that the planes were flying at 4,000 feet, a half-mile apart until the next thing he knew, the Cessna was right in front of him. A witness, fishing a nearby creek, said that the planes were flying parallel with each other just before the collision. He heard a bang and saw the Cessna as it "nose-dived completely out of control" ("Before").

The Cessna's tail section was sheared off. The plane hit rocky terrain and came to rest upside down, about a half-mile away from its tail section.

The Piper Cherokee had damage to its propeller, left wing and window, but Moritz was able to return safely to Pru Field. A witness said the plane circled the downed plane three times before returning to the airport.

The National Transportation Safety Board later attributed the probable cause of the crash to pilot inattentiveness and failure to maintain proper clearance between the two planes.

Sources: Kathy Witkowsky, "Midair Crash," The Spokesman-Review, May 25, 1987, p. A-1; Kathy Witkowsky, "Before Midair Crash Two Small Airplanes Flew Side by Side," The Spokesman-Review, May 26, 1987, p. A-1; Kathy Witkowsky, "Service Honors Family Known by All of Ritzville," The Spokesman-Review, May 28, 1987, p. A-5; Aviation accidents by month, May 1987,"  NTSB identification no. SEA87FA100B and SEA87FA100A, National Transportation Safety Board website (

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