Small jet crashes near Melbourne airport, kills pilot

Associated Press, January 24, 2003 - 10:06 PM
MELBOURNE, Fla. The pilot of a small, experimental jet was killed Friday when the plane crashed near Melbourne International Airport, officials said.

The plane, a five-seat Maverick twin-jet, crashed a quarter of a mile northwest of the approach of runway 9L, a duty officer for the Federal Aviation Administration said. The FAA said only the pilot was aboard the plane, which departed from Melbourne International earlier Friday.

Airport officials said they would not release any information about the pilot, pending an investigation by the National Traffic Safety Board.

Cmdr. Ron Bell of the Melbourne Police Department told Florida Today that the fire department's airport station responded to the scene at 4:59 p.m., when it learned that the plane was having problems with its landing gear.

The crash caused a small fire that was quickly contained, but no other air traffic was diverted, Bell said.

Michael Lewis, spokesman for AeroGroup Inc., said he saw the plane as it approached.

"The plane was flying low and erratically over the runway," Lewis said. "It disappeared below the hangars, and we saw black smoke, which seemed to expand in size as it came up."

Jim Johnson, executive director for the airport, said it was the first fatality at the airport during his 15-year tenure. According to NTSB records, the last air fatalities in Melbourne were in 1979 when four people were killed in two separate incidents.