Plane crash kills two

Published 5:39 pm Saturday, May 4, 2013

This experimental aircraft crashed in a field off Carolina Road Saturday afternoon.

Suffolk firefighters lift the wing of an experimental, two-seater airplane that crashed while trying to land at the Suffolk Executive Airport on Saturday during the Virginia Regional Festival of Flight. The pilot and passenger were both killed in the crash.

Michael and Sylvia White of Norfolk were driving along Carolina Road Saturday afternoon, on the way to visit relatives, when Michael White saw a small airplane coming across the road ahead of them.

“It kind of like barrel-rolled right down into the ground,” he said from the backyard of a home adjacent to a field near the former Southside Trailer Park where that experimental two-seater went down at about 1 p.m.

“It was too fast to be landing, so that’s why we rushed here,” he added.


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Running into the field, they found the wreckage of the single-engine, light sport aircraft. Inside were two men, neither of whom had a pulse, White said.

“We were in the trailer and heard a loud boom,” said Kathy Dearsley, who lives with her family in the nearby trailer park, which was recently sold and is now known as 1073 Carolina Associates. “When we got outside, smoke was coming out, heavy smoke.”

Melissa Dearsley said she was outside and saw the airplane coming down.

“It was spiraling out of control from the sky, and it just hit real hard,” she said.

State police confirmed that two men died in the crash, which took place on the first day of the Virginia Regional Festival of Flight, held this weekend at the Suffolk Executive Airport.

Virginia State Police Sgt. Michelle Anaya said in an emailed press update that the aircraft, which was headed to the festival, had “attempted to land several times” before crashing in the field across Carolina Road from the airport.

Anaya said police had not been able to positively identify the victims and were working with Maryland State Police to do so, since the aircraft was registered there.

Festival officials said Saturday it was still unclear exactly what had happened in the minutes before the crash. Suffolk’s is an uncontrolled airport, which means there are no air traffic controllers and no control tower to coordinate the takeoffs and landings there.

Pilots normally contact one another and coordinate traffic through a “unicom” (universal communications) station, according to Tom Tyndall, the volunteer operations director for the Virginia Festival of Flight. During the festival, which is in its 15th year and is visiting Suffolk for the fourth time, a temporary communications facility is set up in a trailer, where volunteers watch the incoming and departing aircraft and “assist them to keep it safe,” he said.

Tyndall said that just prior to the crash a series of aircraft had been landing on the grass runway that had been set up for light aircraft and ultralights. He and other witnesses described a flight of three airplanes traveling together. The first two landed safely, he said. The third did not.

The tail number of the aircraft that crashed is registered to Barry R. Newgent of Davidsonville, Md. According to online aviation records, the aircraft was built by Newgent on the S6S airframe and featured a four-cycle, 100-hp Rotax engine. It was certified by the Federal Aviation Administration as airworthy in 2007, and the registration was renewed on April 8, according to FAA records online.

The FAA had personnel on site at the Festival of Flight, according to Tyndall, and at least one of those representatives immediately headed to the crash site after volunteers in the communications trailer heard and passed along the initial report of the crash and then called Suffolk’s emergency dispatchers.

Suffolk fire and rescue personnel and police officers provided support to the Virginia State Police and FAA investigators during the crash investigation, according to Suffolk spokeswoman Diana Klink.

First responders arrived on the scene in the 1000 block of Turlington Road and Old Somerton Road at 1:08 p.m., seven minutes after being dispatched, Klink stated in a press release.

According to Tyndall, activities at the Festival of Flight were expected to continue as planned for the rest of Saturday and Sunday.

“Generally, if (a crash) is not part of the air show and it happens off the field, generally it doesn’t affect” the schedule, he said.

Saturday’s crash, he added, was the first the Festival of Flight has experienced in its 15 years.

The event, which is popular among pilots from across the Mid-Atlantic, had been sparsely attended on Saturday, and Tyndall and other officials blamed the weather.

A low cloud ceiling, gusty winds and below-normal temperatures had resulted in far fewer than the 350 or more aircraft that organizers have come to expect each year. Where in previous years one runway was lined on both sides by visiting airplanes, on Saturday afternoon, fewer than 50 were scattered around the airport property, and takeoffs and landings were sporadic in the hours immediately after the crash.

Sunday’s events include an airshow with a wing-walker from 1 to 2 p.m., a rally adventure for pilots to hone their flying skills, special appearances from a variety of antique aircraft and flight simulators, crafts and free Young Eagles airplane rides for children.