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Friends of experienced pilot killed in crash say he had passion for aviation

The last aircraft Morris Douglas Newton worked on. People who helped him built it signed the wings of the plane. Newton died in a plane crash just outside of Las Cruces on Oct. 12, 2017. (Credit: KFOX14/CBS4)

A highly decorated pilot and aviation educator is one of two people killed in a fiery small-airplane crash Thursday night near Las Cruces.

Morris Douglas Newton Jr., 77, was with David Glen Hancock, 67, when the aircraft went down for unknown reasons and caught on fire, according to New Mexico State Police.

The crash happened at around 8:30 p.m. in a remote, mountainous area approximately 4 miles northeast of Las Cruces International Airport, according to state police and the Federal Aviation Association.

The aircraft was a single-engine Cessna 182, according to the FAA.

According to the FAA's pilot registry, Hancock was listed as a student pilot. His certification was issued on June 3, 2017.

Friends of Newton told KFOX14 he had been a pilot with the U.S. Navy and spent more than 50 years in aviation.

Newton had completed hundreds of hours of flying time and had a passion for teaching younger people about aviation, according to a friend of Newton's who chose not to be identified.

Newton was part of the Experimental Aircraft Association Chapter 555 in Las Cruces.

He was working on a silver Waiex model Sonex along with a group of young scouts in the Young Eagles program, according to a friend, and was also working on building his own airplane, the friend said.

The veteran pilot is described by friends as a humble individual despite his extensive knowledge in aviation. His warm personality made him approachable to other seasoned pilots who never shied away from asking Newton for help.

"Some people say, ''He left doing what he loved,' but I don't agree with that. I wish I would've seen him flying 10 more years from now," said one of Newton's friends.

The EAA plans to have a private memorial service to honor its colleague.

Meanwhile, the National Transportation Safety Board is investigating what caused the airplane to do down.

The investigation could up to 16 months, according to a spokesman with the NTSB.

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