William M. Bumpus; 1928-2014: Toledo native was federal aviation crash investigator


CHARLESTON, S.C. — William M. Bumpus, a Toledo native who got his pilot’s license at age 19 and followed an Air Force career with 30 years as a federal air-safety inspector, flying jetliners and investigating high-profile crashes, died Sunday at Roper Hospital in Charleston. He was 85.

He had congestive heart failure, his son Mike said.

Mr. Bumpus and his wife, Lauretta, lived in Charleston the last nine years, but home for many years was Freeport, N.Y. His siblings remained in his former hometown, and at Christmas and most summers, “he’d find a way back to Toledo and spend time with family.”

He was born May 6, 1928, in Providence, Ky., to Thelma and Johnny Bumpus. The family moved to Toledo in 1929. He found work at Rossford Ordnance Depot during World War II and was a 1946 graduate of the former Macomber Vocational High School.

By May, 1947, he received a private pilot’s license while an apprentice mechanic at Toledo Municipal Airport, now Toledo Executive Airport in Lake Township. A black person receiving a pilot’s license was enough of a rarity that The Blade and the Pittsburgh Courier, a leading African-American newspaper, wrote about him. His first passengers were his parents and brothers, The Blade reported then.

He aspired to a career in aviation and in 1948 joined the Air Force, entering a flight program at Randolph Field in Texas. He flew bombers — including combat missions in the Korean and Vietnam wars — and transport craft and was stationed in South Korea, Japan, the Philippines, and stateside. He retired in 1970 as a major.

He was hired by the Federal Aviation Administration and evaluated the planes, pilots, and systems of major airlines. His duty put him at the controls of large jets.

“He absolutely loved flying and being part of the organization to make the skies safer for the American people,” his son Mike said.

By his retirement in 2003, he’d eagerly learned to fly the Boeing 747-400 — an aircraft “alien to the way he learned to fly,” his son David said. “He could do anything he put his mind to.”

As an aviation crash investigator, his assignments included the 1977 collision in the Canary Islands of Pan Am and KLM jetliners and the 1988 explosion of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. His son David accompanied him to the crash scene of TWA Flight 800 off the Long Island coast in 1996.

“He could go and walk around an airplane and look past the carnage and find the root cause,” son David said. “I’ve watched it firsthand.”

He was a 2004 recipient of the FAA’s Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award.

Competitive shooting was a pastime of many years. Mr. Bumpus first took part in the pistol matches at Camp Perry near Port Clinton in 1960 with an Air Force team. He visited periodically through the decades, most recently in 2013 with son Mike, also an Air Force veteran.

Surviving are his wife, Lauretta Bumpus, whom he married Dec. 24, 1957; daughters, Cheryl, Catherine, and Stefani Bumpus, and Staci Muhammad; sons, Michael and David Bumpus; sisters, Ann V. Brown and Bonnie Jean Cranon; brothers, Reuben Bumpus, Sr., a longtime Toledo developer and civic activist, and Robert Bumpus, Sr., a former president of Local 1058, United Auto Workers, and 14 grandchildren.

Services will begin at 11 a.m. today in St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Charleston. Arrangements are by Hilton’s Mortuary, Charleston.

The family suggests tributes to St. Mark’s Episcopal.

Contact Mark Zaborney at: mzaborney@theblade.com or 419-724-6182.