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Shanda Fanning couldn’t get enough of flying airplanes and had the tenacity to fulfill her ambition of thriving in a male-dominated profession, her friends said Thursday, one day after the Tennessean died when a UPS cargo jet crashed near an Alabama airport.
“She was truly living the dream,” said Jerry Hill, an aerospace and transportation professor who taught and advised Fanning years ago at Middle Tennessee State University.
UPS said in an email Thursday night that the Jefferson County, Ala., medical examiner had confirmed the identities of the two pilots aboard the A300 jet as First Officer Shanda Fanning, 37, of Lynchburg, Tenn., and Capt. Cerea Beal Jr., 58, of Matthews, N.C. Both pilots died when the jet crashed in a field near the Birmingham-Shuttlesworth Airport early Wednesday. The jet was headed from Louisville, Ky., to Birmingham.
UPS said Fanning had been with UPS since 2006 and was known for being an aviation enthusiast. Beal had been with UPS since 1990 and was an ex-Marine, the company said in a statement Thursday night.
Hank Williamson, manager of the municipal airport in Shelbyville, Tenn., where Fanning grew up, hired her to refuel planes and assist customers in 1999. She held the job for three years and earned a reputation as a personable employee and good pilot who “lived and breathed aviation.”
“Her life’s dream was to fly,” he said. “She was doing what she loved to do. She was very conscientious about it. Her goal in life was to be an airline pilot for a major carrier.”
Lin Tillman, who worked with her at the airport at the time, recalled that Fanning spoke of how her father worked long hours at a manufacturing plant to help her get through college and to obtain her pilot’s license. That helped kindle a strong desire to succeed, as she progressed from flying a single-engine plane to eventually huge UPS cargo jets.
“She said she became determined to never let him down, because he sacrificed for her to become a pilot,” Tillman said.
Wes Fanning, who identified himself as Fanning’s brother-in-law, said Wednesday in a brief interview that she had been flying since she was a teenager.
Shanda Fanning married into a family with deep ties to the Jack Daniel’s whiskey distillery at Lynchburg. At least three generations of her husband’s family has worked at the distillery, with her husband, Bret, continuing the family tradition. Her father-in-law was director of bottling operations at the distillery when he retired after a long career.
Fanning’s husband was at work when he was notified of the plane crash.
“It’s a tough situation,” said Jeff Arnett, master distiller at the distillery. “We hurt for him and for the other pilot and their families. It’s a tragedy. In this case, it’s closer to home than usual.”
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