|Death: ||Mar. 7, 2001|
By BILL EGBERT and CORKY SIEMASZKO DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITERS
Thursday, March 8th 2001, 2:20AM
An heir to the Bloomingdale's department store fortune and her lover were killed when their twin-engine plane plunged into the stormy sea off Iceland, officials said yesterday.
The bodies of navigator Gwen Bloomingdale, 59, and pilot Barbara Gard, 52, were found about 8 miles off the coast.
The women, both experienced pilots who lived together in Provincetown, Mass., were heading to Britain to take part in the London-to-Sydney Air Race 2001.
"They absolutely lived their lives to the fullest," said Bloomingdale's daughter-in-law, Debra Bloomingdale. "If there's one positive thing we can find in this tragedy, it's that we know they died together, and they were doing exactly what they wanted to do."
In an interview last year, Gwen Bloomingdale described how she "rhapsodize[s] about flying" and how she used part of her inheritance to buy a plane.
The weather was poor, skies were overcast and winds were as high as 50 mph when Gard sent their Aero Commando 560 roaring down a runway at Keflavik International Airport about 8:15 a.m. local time Tuesday.
About a half-hour after takeoff, Gard changed radio frequencies and notified air traffic control in Reykjavik that the plane had reached an altitude of 15,000 feet. Four minutes later, it vanished from the radar screen.
Wilf Barker, chief executive of the London-to-Sydney race, said Gard and Bloomingdale were the only all-female team among 47 competitors. The race starts Sunday.
Bloomingdale and Gard owned and operated Willie Air Tours of Provincetown and Titusville, Fla., and were experienced air racers.
Bloomingdale started flying at age 50 after giving up her career as a lawyer and a Republican feminist leader. Formerly of Cambridge, Mass., she was a mother and a grandmother. She also was a great-great-granddaughter of one of the Bloomingdale brothers who founded the upscale department store chain.
Gard was a veteran of the Marine Corps and a retired National Guard major.
Stunned neighbors said the deaths were a blow to Provincetown.
"They were very active in the community," said neighbor Chris Fredrick, 56. "Gwen was a leader in working out the strategic plan for the town, and Barb worked for the Center for Coastal Studies. . . . They were just two wonderful girls."
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