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Friend remembers Hilliard man killed Saturday in Dallas air show crash

Family and friends are grieving the loss of a Hilliard aviator killed in a midair crash at a Dallas air show Saturday.

Curtis Rowe, 64, and five others died when a historic B-17 Flying Fortress bomber and a P-63 Kingcobra fighter plane collided during an aerial demonstration.

Rowe was a 30-year veteran of the Ohio Wing Civil Air Patrol. A statement from Rowe's commander said he flew cadets on hundreds of orientation flights over the course of his service.

A B-17 mechanic for more than 30 years, Rowe had a special bond with the plane, said longtime friend Rick Brunetto.

"Last week when we saw him before he was gonna go to Dallas, he said that, you know, 'Well I'm leaving tomorrow to go to Dallas to be with my mistress, my plane,' you know," Brunetto said. "He worked on that plane he kept it repair and maintenance and went on all the flights and air shows. That was his love."

Brunetto is the owner of the Valley Dale Ballroom and leader of the "Rick Brunetto Big Band."

"[Rowe] had a fascination with World War II and all the history of that, and that's why he loved the big band music, which we play. So that really is what connected us, I think, in the beginning," Brunetto said.

Brunetto remembered Rowe as a talented carpenter, electrician an all-around handyman who could "fix anything."

"I remember a couple of months ago, in the middle of the night our sump pump went out," Brunetto said. "[Rowe] came there in the middle of the night and fixed our sump pump to keep the building from flooding. You know, just that's the kind of guy he was."

Rowe often worked the front door taking tickets at the ballroom, Brunetto said, where he was something of a local celebrity.

"He's there every Friday," Brunetto said. "He would greet people when they came in. And then the thing about it, he would never take money for it. He was just the kindest, most giving person I've ever known."

Brunetto said he and others are planning a celebration of Rowe's life in the coming weeks at the ballroom.

Matthew Rand is the Morning Edition host for 89.7 NPR News. Rand served as an interim producer during the pandemic for WOSU’s All Sides daily talk show.