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Pilot still in serious condition

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BALMAT — Ask about his love of aviation and one wonders where to begin.

Lawrence L. Kraker, the pilot who crashed his experimental plane into Sylvia Lake last week, has had his mind set on the skies since his childhood, according to a neighbor and lifelong friend of the Kraker family, Ralph W. Undercoffler.

“Where do I begin?” Mr. Undercoffler said with a chuckle when asked about Mr. Kraker’s need to climb into the skies.

Mr. Undercoffler said Mr. Kraker’s love of flying predates his 1972 graduation from the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., as his father was a flight instructor for the Navy.

Mr. Kraker went to flight school right after graduation from the academy, Mr. Undercoffler said, and was an F-14 fighter pilot.

“I think he was in love with aviation,” Mr. Undercoffler said. “The entire time he was with Delta Airlines, he was so impressed with the other pilots and the training that they would all receive.”

Mr. Kraker flew with Delta Airlines for about 25 years until his retirement seven or eight years ago, Mr. Undercoffler said.

“And he would have preferred to be in the cockpit than in training, but he admired the fact that the company gave that level of training, and as a passenger, I did, too,” Mr. Undercoffler said with a laugh.

Mr. Kraker and his family were up at the lake from his New Smyrna Beach, Fla., home for a memorial service for his father.

Several weeks earlier, he had some difficulties with his Kolb Twin Star Mark III with Full Lotus Mono Float and some slight repairs had to be made, Mr. Undercoffler said.

The July 17 crash was a test run after those repairs.

Mr. Kraker was flying his aircraft when, nearby campers said, the engine failed and after 10 seconds of coasting, the plane nosedived into the water just off shore.

He was flown to Upstate Medical University, Syracuse, where he is still listed in serious condition.

“Larry was very safety conscious. He would never take anyone up unless everything was running right, and yesterday was a test flight,” Mr. Undercoffler said last week.

A post on Sylvia Lake’s website reported that Mr. Kraker’s brother, Sandy Kraker, a former president of the Sylvia Lake Association, said Mr. Kraker was “groggy but OK.”

The post also said Mr. Kraker broke his back and “is overall banged up.”

“He suffered lacerations, a couple small hematomas, 2nd degree burns, a concussion, and an L1 burst fracture in his spine,” Sandy Kraker’s post from Sunday read. “Lar had a procedure on July 18, to decompress and pin the connective vertebrae above and below the fracture. Needless to say he’s in rough shape, but had great progress cognitively a day after the invasive surgery.”

The post further said that Mr. Kraker has been fitted for a back brace and strapped in so he could sit in a chair, “a great step to getting him off the pressure of the back surgery.”

“It’s going be a long road to recovery and it’s our hope he can be moved to Rehab as soon as possible, dependent on the recovery progress,” the post said.

Sylvia Lake Association President Barbara Maloy Kane said that while the lake community is a close one, it is times like this that demonstrate how close.

“You mention that family and people smile,” Ms. Kane said. “They are pillars of this community and residents of Sylvia Lake are a very close-knit community. Everyone here is pulling for Larry’s full and complete recovery.”

Mr. Undercoffler said his friendship with Larry and Sandy Kraker was a result of their mothers being college roommates.

“That is the beauty of this lake; it is very intergenerational,” Mr. Undercoffler said. “Our kids are now friends.”

When talking about his old friend, Mr. Undercoffler painted a picture of a multidimensional man who he said had everything going for him.

“He is funny and he has an interesting personality,” Mr. Undercoffler said. “When he needs to be serious, he is serious. When he needs to cut lose, he cuts lose. The Krakers are one of the greatest gifts of my life.”

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