Plane crash claims rancher; Sinton was foggy at time of mishap

by John Tedesco
Metro / South Texas

All content (c) San Antonio Express-News

SINTON — Alfred “Bubba” Thomas, a popular rancher who flew sick children to hospitals and planned to build a new library for his hometown, was killed Thursday night in an airplane crash.

Thomas, 59, was attempting to land his single-engine Beech aircraft at the county airport in foggy conditions, but it was unclear what caused the accident, said San Patricio County Sheriff Leroy Moody.

Before the crash, Thomas apparently activated a distress call on his radio, which was picked up by air traffic controllers in Corpus Christi, Moody said.

Thomas was licensed to fly aircraft by instruments when visibility was poor, but the plane hadn’t been lined up with the runway.

“I just can’t figure out why he was this far west of the runway, unless it was so foggy he just couldn’t see it,” said Moody, who had known the affable pilot for 40 years.

“Bubba was a great guy,” Moody said. “He’d give you the shirt off his back,”

Thomas volunteered in many charities, among them Children’s Miracle Flights, a network of pilots who fly young patients wherever they need treatment.

Thomas was returning home from such a trip. He had taken a boy, his mother and a nurse from Lufkin to Grand Prairie, ferried the trio back to Lufkin, and headed by himself back to Sinton.

The airplane crashed in a patch of trees on the edge of the airport property and burst into flames.

The accident robbed Sinton of a loved native son. Thomas was born and raised in this town of 5,600 people, although he and his wife, Florence, also had a house in Austin.

He was the type of person who tried his hand at anything — flying airplanes, ranching, investing in oil and gas, and building houses.

Thomas was quick with jokes and seemingly had friends everywhere.

It was a wonder he didn’t run for public office.

“He thought about it all the time, and he said he just didn’t have the time,” said his daughter, Jessica Thomas, 33.

Thomas had been married for 36 years and raised three children who remembered their father fondly.

“He was at the happiest moment of his life,” said his daughter, Jenny Adams, 28. Life seemed sweet, and after 36 years of marriage, he still doted on his wife, bringing her coffee every morning.

Sometimes, he liked to sit back at his ranch and take it all in.

“He loved the ranch,” Adams said.

“He loved that lifestyle of living out there peacefully. He’d make comments sitting out there, saying ‘Isn’t this great?'”

One family friend after another showed up Friday at the home of Thomas’ mother, Joye, who greeted them all warmly.

“He was my best friend,” said a gray-haired, teary eyed man as he gave her a hug. “I don’t know what to say.”

Joye Thomas said people had been visiting her all day.

“He didn’t have an enemy in the world, I don’t suppose,” she said.

Mother and son planned to pay for a new 5,000-square-foot public library in Sinton. The project still will go forward, Joye Thomas said, but it will be bittersweet.

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