Sept. 01--NORTH HAMPTON, N.H. -- A New Hampshire airfield was in shock and mourning today after a local pilot with ties to the airport lost control of his small Cessna on takeoff, killing himself and a passenger.
"It's just a very, very sad thing to see...we've never had anything of this magnitude happen here," said Dana Thurston, 46, a veteran pilot with a plane at the North Hampton, N.H. airfield. "We are just going to reconvene as pilots and support each other because it's going to be a day of mourning."
Police, FAA investigators and a medical examiner are combing through the wreckage of the white and orange striped aircraft, which lies 50 yards from the small airstrip.
North Hampton Fire Chief Dennis Cote said the two male victims, both in their mid 60, died immediately upon impact.
"There was no suffering whatsoever. It was instantaneous," he said.
Cote said that although the plane had just refueled there was no fire in the crash because "both wings were clipped by trees" causing "a rapid discharge of fuel. It wasn't able to spark anything."
The chief said that he was waiting for police to officially release the names of the victims, who had stopped at the airfield to refuel and pick up a passenger.
"I'm not sure what their intent was -- if they were just going up for a ride," he said.
Officials from the FAA and inspectors from NH Aeronautics were at the scene and will reconvene early tomorrow morning, when investigators from NTSB will arrive, the chief said.
Thurston said he knew the pilot who was killed, but not the passenger, noting that the pilot sometimes stored his plane here and at another private airfield elsewhere in New Hampshire.
"He's a very experienced pilot. I know he was here this morning just to get gas. He was probably going to go home to his home field, which is a smaller, much more difficult field to navigate than this. This field is very safe...it's a hundred feet wide, a very wide field and it's long and in very good condition. I would say the field itself did not have anything to do with the crash," he said.
Thurston, a commercial truck driver from Stratham who has been flying a plane for 20 years, said he did not want to speculate on the cause of the crash, noting there could be "30 different theories," but said that the plane was in a vertical position when it appeared its wing stalled and lurched violently to the left.
"Unfortunately, the situation was that it stalled to one side and that it nosed down very violently. If you had enough room to recover, it would have been able to recover very easily from a stall like this," he said. "But unfortunately, when you only have a couple hundred feet, it's going to go into the ground...there's 30 different things that could have gone wrong."
Thurston described it as a "really, really unfortunate accident. Everyone here is in absolute state of shock and mourning. This will be a tough day for everybody...he was a super nice guy and a good pilot."
The tragic accident occurred during the airfield's annual Labor Day Lobsterbake event, which draws spectators to the 68-year-old airfield's small cafe to watch pilots doing spot landings and a "flour bomb drop," in which local pilots test their skills by dropping two-pound paper bags of flour onto targets from the air,
"This is usually one of our favorite days of the year. It's our end-of-year celebration," Thurston said.
The pilot that was killed and his passenger were not here for the Lobsterbake but simply had stopped off to get gas, he said. The festivities were cancelled.
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