What follows is the original breaking story published in the January 1995 issue of B.A.S.S. Times.
MORRISVILLE, N.C. — The fishing world was deeply saddened to learn that reigning BASS Masters Classic champion Bryan Kerchal was one of those killed in the commuter plane crash that happened Dec. 13 about four miles from the Raleigh-Durham International Airport.
The 23-year-old Connecticut resident made history this past summer in North Carolina by becoming the first B.A.S.S. Federation angler to win the pro-dominated Classic title.
Ironically, American Eagle Flight 3379 originated in Greensboro, the city where Kerchal had enjoyed his greatest triumph five months earlier.
Kerchal was one of 17 passengers and three crew members on board the plane when it crashed. At press time, there were five survivors.
Kerchal was attempting to link up with another flight to New York’s LaGuardia International Airport when the small commuter flight went down. He had spent the day in Greensboro doing promotional work for Wrangler Rugged Wear, one of his major corporate sponsors.
His death shocked the entire fishing community — friends, fans, fellow pros and sponsors.
“Bryan was a very special person,” said Karen Cole, marketing manager for Wrangler. “He was admired by all who knew him, not only for his great professional success, but for the sincerity and warmth he brought to all personal and professional relationships.
“Over our two-year friendship, I found Bryan to be a very kind and sensitive man who put the concerns of others first. His loss has left a void and feeling of emptiness at Wrangler, in the fishing industry and especially those of us who knew him well.”
“I knew Bryan as a friend, a businessman and a fierce competitor,” said Gary Giudice, president of Blue Heron Communications and a close friend and advisor to the newly crowned Classic champion.
“I remember asking him recently about signing autographs. Bryan looked down and said: ‘I can’t believe these kids look up to me that much. I really don’t know if I deserve it, but I will always have time for them.’
“Bryan never realized the impact he had on children. As an amateur winning the Classic, he proved that anything is possible and that gave hope for fame to anyone who ever has or will fish a tournament. I can only imagine what greatness he could have achieved had this tragedy not happened,” Giudice concluded.
“Bryan Kerchal was a special young man,” lamented B.A.S.S. founder and president Ray Scott.
“Man, I’m going to miss him. He was all of the things I dreamed of 25 years ago when I started this whole effort. He was a class act in every way.”
“The entire Ranger family is simply stunned,” said Ranger Boats president Randy Happer. “As supporters of Bryan, as well as fans, admirers and fellow anglers, we feel that competitive angling has lost a bright star.”
Bryan Kerchal’s career reached the top in a decidedly untraditional, whirlwind fashion.
Although he had only begun serious bass fishing a little more than four years ago, Kerchal made B.A.S.S. history by qualifying for the Classic through the B.A.S.S. Federation for the second consecutive year, a feat no other anglers has accomplished. Although he finished last in the 1993 Classic, he put those lessons to good use the following year by topping the more experienced touring pros to coax the most weight out of a rain-soaked High Rock Lake near Greensboro.
The plane crash happened exactly 10 days after Kerchal had enjoyed his best finish of the 1994-95 tournament season. At the 1994 Georgia BASSMASTER Eastern Invitational at Lake Lanier, he was one of only six B.A.S.S. pros to bring three consecutive five-bass limits to the scales. He finished “in the money” at 33rd in a field of 307 anglers.
It was during the final weigh-in of that tournament that Kerchal paused to sound a them he had emphasized repeatedly since his unlikely Classic conquest.
“If this is your dream, kids, don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t do it,” he said.
“Because it’s definitely possible for anybody in this crowd or anywhere to do what I have done. I think I proved that by winning the Classic this year. It can be done. So always work as hard as you can and put as much as you can into it and don’t give up.”
Bryan Kerchal is survived by his father, Ray; mother, Ronnie; sister, Deana; and fiancée, Suzanne Dignon.