Names of pilot and passenger released from fatal plane crash Sunday in Yates

Posted 30 May 2023 at 6:55 am

By Tom Rivers and Ginny Kropf

Provided photos: Wings from the airplane detached from the aircraft and landed in an orchard.

YATES – Orleans County Sheriff Chris Bourke has released the names of the pilot and his passenger from Sunday’s fatal airplane crash in Yates.

Earl J. Luce Jr, 70, of Brockport was pilot of the single-engine plane. It was a fixed wing hand-built experimental aircraft.

His passenger was Morris Wortman, 72, of Rochester. They were pronounced dead at the scene by the Orleans County Coroner’s Office.

The Orleans County Sheriff’s Office, the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board continue to investigate the crash that occurred Sunday at 5:42 p.m.

The preliminary investigation indicates that the wings of the aircraft became detached from the fuselage and fell to the ground landing in an orchard, Bourke said. The fuselage of the aircraft continued west approximately 1000 to 1500 yards before crashing into a pasture behind a residence.

Sheriff’s investigators and the NTSB will be on site today to continue the investigation.

“The Orleans County Sheriff’s Office would like to extend our deepest condolences to the families of the victims of this tragic event,” Bourke said.

Wortman was a prominent obstetrician/gynecologist in Rochester.

The death of Earl Luce is a major loss for the aviation community in the Orleans County area.

Peter Lockner of Batavia, flying instructor at Genesee County Airport and former instructor at Pine Hill, talked to Luce on Sunday morning during a pancake breakfast at Gaines Valley Airport, where Luce kept his airplanes.

Lockner had flown in for the breakfast and said Luce was giving rides in his favorite plane, a small, two-seat Buttercup. Luce was particularly fond of experimental aircraft and was instrumental in establishing the Experimental Aircraft Association at Brockport Airport.

Luce had built several Buttercups and developed a website – – where he tells how Steve Wittman built the first Buttercup in 1937. He said Wittman died before creating plans to reproduce the aircraft, and Luce accomplished the task of putting the design on paper and offering detailed plans for sale to the public so they could build their own reproduction.

Lockner met Luce 20 years ago when he visited Luce at his furniture rental business in Brockport. He said Luce operated out of an old building on Main Street, where he made fuselages on the first floor, wings on the second floor and painted and assembled the aircraft on the third floor, except for the wings. The wings were put on at whatever airport Luce took the plane to, Lockner said.

“Luce was the guy to go to for information about aircraft,” Lockner said. “He was the kind of person who was happy to give you information any time.”

Lockner said Luce was an excellent pilot and a world of information.

“He liked to fly things when people didn’t know if they would fly or not,” he said.