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September 28, 1997

Web pages raise
money for plane-crash survivor

By Timothy C. Barmann

Shortly after the single-engine plane crash that killed five people earlier this month, a friend of the victims posted World Wide Web pages to memorialize them and to help raise money for the sole survivor.

The pages were posted to the Web site of the Boston-Providence Sky Diving School (http://www.skydivetoday.com) by Brian Buckland, who is the site's "webmaster."

Buckland is a former Bryant College student who learned to skydive at the center and befriended several of the instructors and staff there.

He eventually lent his computer skills by offering to build a Web site for the sky-diving school. He graduated in May from Bryant and moved to Massachusetts to work for a manufacturing company in Danvers. But he continues to maintain the training center's Web site.

Tragedy struck on Sept. 6, when three of Buckland's friends - expert parachutists who were instructors at the skydiving school, a student learning to skydive, and the pilot - were killed in a plane crash. The engine of the Cessna 182E Skylane they were riding in quit and the plane crashed shortly after takeoff at North Central State Airport in Smithfield. Another parachutist was critically injured.

After the crash, Buckland posted a Web page with the skydiving center's permission. The headline says "In memory of our friends."

It has the pictures of four of the five victims - Karl Newton, 26, of Middleboro, England; Robert Mengel, 35, of South Africa; Robert Backoff, 31, of Walpole, Mass., and the pilot, James S. Castagnozzi, 27, of Whitman, Mass. (Not shown on the site is Nicole Rudkowski, 21, of North Attleboro, who was aboard the plane for her first parachute jump.)

Buckland said he wanted to let people who might have known the victims know what had happened. He posted information about the funeral arrangements and a memorial service for the victims.

"It's a tough time for everyone right now, and keeping the skydivers and the public on the Internet who knew the victims informed was my goal," he said.

He also wanted to help raise money for the only survivor of the crash, Andre Bedard, 33, of Canada, who has no medical insurance.

"As many of you may know, Andy is the only survivor of a horrific plane crash," the page says. "Although Andy is expected to recover, he has already amassed exorbitant medical bills."

Buckland visited Bedard at Rhode Island Hospital and posted several updates on his condition.

"Andy has been taken out of the ICU and is on the road to recovery," says one update, dated Sept. 20. "He did manage to get up and out of bed a few times the other day, bit it still requires a GREAT deal of help in order to do so. He will be leaving for Canada in a few weeks to continue his recovery. Please keep thinking of him."

The site also invites visitors to send an E-mail message to Bedard. Buckland said traffic to the Web site has at least tripled since he posted the memorial and medical fund pages.

He said his efforts have been met with appreciation.

"The few days after and at the memorial, I had several people come up to me and say that they were really glad the Web page had been changed and that the current info was always being posted," he said.

He said Bedard is also appreciative. The skydiving put together a binder full of E-mail messages from all over the world, and read some of them to him, Buckland said.

Elsewhere on the Internet, the crash sparked a number of messages in several discussion groups frequented by skydivers and pilots.

Some wrote to speculate on the accident's cause which hasn't been determined yet. Others wrote to express why they are still attracted to such a risky sport.

Tina Femea, a parachutist from Houston, Texas, listed some of the answers she gives. This was one of them: "Because you can't imagine how beautiful is is to be thousands of feet above the ground, with nothing holding you up but some nylon and line, playing with your friends."

Still others posted messages to express their loss.

"Karl Newton was a student of mine when he started jumping at Tilstock," wrote Colin Fitzmaurice who is from a parachute center in England.

"Over the years he became a good friend. I'll miss him."

To contribute to Bedard's medical fund, send donations to: Hospital Trust, 624 George Washington Highway, Lincoln, Rhode Island 02865, c/o Boston- Providence Skydiving Center, Andy Bedard Medical Fund.

Timothy C. Barmann is a Journal-Bulletin staff writer. His column runs every other Sunday on the Computers and Technology page. Send him comments via e-mail at tim@cybertalk.com or U.S. mail, c/o the Journal-Bulletin, 75 Fountain St., Providence, R.I. 02902.