Study: Airport not to blame for crash streak
By Marisa Donelan, mdonelan
Posted: 01/12/2012 06:31:49 AM EST
FITCHBURG — Mechanical failure or pilot error — and not airport conditions — have been to blame for all of the recent accidents involving Fitchburg Municipal Airport, federal investigators and local officials have determined, both in individual incident reports and a 2005 study.
The last plane crash before Wednesday morning’s accident near the Fitchburg Municipal Airport occurred Nov. 6, 2010, when 73-year-old longtime pilot Melville “Reese” Dill Jr., of Weston, was killed after his engine lost power about 100 yards shy of the runway.
Dill, a veteran stunt pilot and instructor, and his passenger, a Westminster man, landed upside down in the Nashua River. The National Transportation Safety Board reported that Dill attempted several times to restart the engine of his authentic AT-6 World War II Navy training plane but was unsuccessful.
Dill’s accident was the first in more than six years for the airport.
However, between 1997 and 2004, the airport had more crashes involving serious injuries or deaths than 15 other airports in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, according to an informal survey of regional airports conducted by the Sentinel & Enterprise in 2005.
In that span, 13 people died in six of the eight planes crashes near the airport, with the most significant crash killing six people in April 2003, when a plane crashed into a building on Nashua Street in Leominster.
FAA authorities later ruled that crash was caused by pilot error, as investigators determined the pilot of the Beechcraft B200, Robert Monaco, 49, of Lexington, had been under the influence of morphine and prescription drugs.
In March 2005, an FAA study concluded that conditions at the airport were not to blame for what they described as “an inordinate number” of plane crashes in the Fitchburg-Leominster area in recent years.
“FAA’s central conclusion is that the spike in accident numbers at Fitchburg appears to be just that — a statistical spike that reflects a random cluster of events,” the FAA report stated. “… FAA has no reason to believe that Fitchburg will continue to have an unusually high number of serious accidents.”
The study was requested by U.S. Rep. John W. Olver, D-Amherst, after a fatal crash in October 2004 — the last fatal crash until 2010.
In 2004, Charles Schwartz, 50, of Fitchburg, crashed a single-engine, one-seat experimental plane into R&S Machine Shop on Monarch Street, near Route 12.
Last December, a pilot headed for the Fitchburg airport crashed and died in Spencer.
In September 2011, the pilot of an experimental aircraft was able to land his plane safely at the airport after it lost its front wheel.
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