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’An outstanding pilot’: Friends mourn young man killed in plane crash

Published: Sep. 23, 2020 at 6:11 PM EDT
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LINCOLNTON, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - Friends and an entire community are in shock after a plane crash left a young man dead.

The Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office confirmed Colen “Cole” Mattison died after the plane he was flying crashed Tuesday evening. He was the only person on board.

His friends say flying was one of his passions. Wednesday marked almost three years exactly since he completed his first solo flight.

Gary Ward, a friend and fellow aviator, says the last time he saw Cole was just minutes before the deadly crash.

“An overused expression which I hate is people say, ‘Well, he died doing what he loved to do.’ We don’t want to die doing what we love to do,” Ward said. “And that’s on doing something else. But I’m flying an airplane. And I know Cole wouldn’t have wanted that either, and we can’t pick those things.”

Ward didn’t just lose a fellow aviator -- he lost a friend.

“We gather every Sunday night, sometimes Sunday morning for breakfast. And that’s become my new hangout over the last several years here, a couple, three years,” he said.

Ward didn’t know that supper was the last he’d have with Cole.

That would be the last time Ward would see Cole flying his plane. Minutes later, he crashed into the bank of the pond on his dad’s property on White Rock Road.

“I’ve lost many friends over the years. Many friends. Close friends. So it hurts,” Ward said.

Despite the devastation of the crash, he remembers what Cole was like behind the propeller.

“And when he took up flying, he just breezed right through that. I’ve flown with him numerous times, and he is an outstanding pilot. One of those people -- you know, we’ve got a word for that, a good stick,” Ward said.

What caused the Cessna 182 to go down is still unknown, but Ward says regardless, he hopes the crash won’t deter other plane enthusiasts from buckling up, taking off and doing what they love, just like Cole.

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