Former Alaska Airlines Chief Executive Bruce R. Kennedy, who led the company's expansion from a regional operator before stepping down in...

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SEATTLE — Former Alaska Airlines Chief Executive Bruce R. Kennedy, who led the company’s expansion from a regional operator before stepping down in 1991 to pursue humanitarian interests, was killed when his single-engine plane crashed into a high-school parking lot in central Washington, his wife said today.

“We have every reason to believe the plane was Bruce’s Cessna 182,” his wife, Karleen Kennedy of Burien, said in a statement released by the airline.

“While we are deeply saddened by the loss of someone we love and admire so much, we rejoice in the knowledge that Bruce is united with his Lord Jesus and take comfort in the fact that he died doing something he loved.”

The single-engine Cessna 182 crashed and burned while trying to land in Cashmere, near Wenatchee, around 7 p.m. Thursday, and the pilot was dead at the scene, the Chelan County Sheriff’s Office said today. When Kennedy’s family got word of the crash, his son, Kevin, drove to the scene, the statement said. Kennedy was on his way from Hot Springs, Mont., to visit his grandchildren in Wenatchee.

Kennedy, 68, served as Alaska Air’s chairman and CEO from 1979 to 1991, and continued to serve on the company’s board of directors until his death. He is credited with expanding Alaska’s routes into southern California and to Mexico, and developing Alaska’s Horizon Air subsidiary.

After 32 years with Alaska Airlines, Kennedy left to pursue humanitarian efforts, according to the Quest Web site. He and Karleen traveled to China to teach English with the Christian group Educational Services International, and the couple also volunteered with World Relief and sheltered dozens of refugee families in their home.

At the time of his death, he served as the chairman of the board for Quest Aircraft Co. of Sandpoint, Idaho, which makes planes for humanitarian routes in remote and conflicted parts of the world.

“Bruce was a great visionary and a great human being,” said Quest Chief Executive Paul Schaller. “His inspiration and dedication to Quest will be greatly missed.”