Ryan McCall always looked happy in the hallways at Riverbend High School in Spotsylvania County.
He was a great friend.
And he had a genuine smile and laugh.
Students have taken to social media to share those and other memories of McCall, 16, a Riverbend sophomore who died Sunday morning in a small-plane crash at Orange County Airport. He was flying a single-engine, fixed-wing plane by himself when it went down in a field east of the airport.
The incident was ruled accidental and the cause of death was blunt trauma, according to the medical examiner’s office.
McCall received his student pilot certification on Jan. 20, 2015, according to the Federal Aviation Administration website.
“I talked to him everyday, laughed with him everyday and now he’s gone. I’m gonna miss you Ry,” a student posted on Twitter with the hashtag RipRyanMcCall.
Ni River Middle School computer science teacher Patty Dye said she taught McCall for all three years that he was in middle school. Earlier this year, she said, he dropped by the school just to say hi and give her a hug.
She called him “kind, compassionate, caring and athletic” and said he was well-liked by both teachers and students. “All teachers who had him I’m sure loved him dearly,” Dye said. “We’re grateful that his parents shared him with us. He’s going to be missed tremendously.”
The National Transportation Safety Board’s on-site investigation of McCall’s accident was expected to wrap up Monday, said NTSB spokesman Peter Knudson. A preliminary report of the findings is expected to be released in five to 10 days, he said.
The full investigation will take about a year to complete.
On Monday, Riverbend High had counselors at all of the classes that McCall was in, and at his two brothers’ classes.
In addition, counselors were on hand at the Spotsylvania Career and Technical Center, where McCall was also a student.
“We’re really trying to be proactive” in providing support for students, schools spokeswoman Rene Daniels said.
School Board member Dawn Shelley, who has a child at Riverbend, called the incident a “horrible tragedy.” “My thoughts and prayers are going out to his family and all of his friends,” she said.
McCall was flying a 1974 Piper Cherokee from a flight school at the Orange airport, an NTSB spokeswoman said. The crash occurred soon after takeoff. Efforts to reach officials with the flight school, Skyline Aviation Services, were unsuccessful.
The minimum age to fly solo is 16 for those with student pilot certificates.
Jim Stover, owner of JLS Aviation at Shannon Airport in Spotsylvania, said student pilots can receive anywhere from 15 to 50 hours of training before they go it alone. “It’s based on competency, not on the number of hours” of training, he said.
Stover, who began flying before he had his driver’s license, said it’s not uncommon for 16-year-olds, such as McCall, to fly by themselves. Flight instructors will also gauge a student’s maturity and judgment before letting them fly alone, he said.
“This is something that’s taken very seriously by the flight instructor community,” he said.
Reporter Robyn Sidersky contributed to this report.