Mid-Continent Instruments and Avionics said Tuesday it lost "a valued employee and friend" after pilot Pat Napolitano was killed in a plane crash.
Napolitano was flying Mid-Continent's Beechcraft Model 17 Staggerwing from Wichita to Fresno, Calif., on Friday when the plane vanished from air-traffic control radar over New Mexico.
According to Flight Aware, a website that tracks airplane paths in the United States, Napolitano's aircraft went down near Las Vegas, New Mexico, at 1:42 p.m. The last recorded takeoff had been from Perrytown, Texas, at 12:56 p.m., according to the tracking website.
Napolitano, 53, was a fleet support representative for Mid-Continent for 15 years and was based out of Fresno.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with Pat’s family and the countless aviators Pat inspired," Mid-Continent said in a statement Tuesday.
His friend, Morris Garcia, president of the Central Valley Aviation Association, said Napolitano had a wife and a daughter. Napolitano spent 33 years as a pilot, Garcia said.
Mid-Continent's 1941 Staggerwing was flown by Napolitano about 20 to 30 weeks a year, according to information provided by Garcia. He remembered that Napolitano would often send him images from his flights, like sunsets, mountains and restaurants where he ate during his stops.
"He was just a great guy," Garcia said. "Pat was a bigger-than-life type of fellow who would go the extra mile to help anyone."
It's not clear how or why Napolitano's aircraft went down. A National Transportation Safety Board spokesman said Tuesday the agency is investigating the accident.
A Mid-Continent spokeswoman said Tuesday the company didn't know the condition of the airplane.
Garcia said a review of the tracking data made it appear Napolitano had a "controlled descent" from about 10,000 feet. Garcia said Napolitano was known for cautious aviation habits and, as a board member of the aviation association in Fresno, he promoted those practices to local pilots.