Sunday, June 1, 2014

Plane traveled 2,000 feet from runway, official says

from bostonglobe

By Dan AdamsJeremy C. FoxTodd Feathers and Martin Finucane


National Transportation Safety Board investigators were at the scene of the crash Sunday.

BEDFORD — The private jet that crashed on takeoff at Hanscom Field Saturday night, killing seven people, left the runway and continued rolling through the grass, colliding with an antenna and bursting through a chain-link fence before it came to rest in a gully, where it was consumed by fire, a federal crash investigator said today.
An airport employee has told investigators that the aircraft, which crashed at about 9:40 p.m. Saturday, never became airborne, said Luke Schiada, who is heading the National Transportation Safety Board probe of the crash.
“Our information from a witness is that he did not see the aircraft break ground,” Schiada said. “The aircraft itself is located about 2,000 feet from the end of the paved surface of Runway 11.”
Schiada said debris along the path of the plane included pieces of the plane’s landing gear.
One of those killed in the crash of the private jet was Lewis Katz, 72, co-owner of The Philadelphia Inquirer, who had traveled to the area for a nonprofit fundraiser. Media accounts identified two of the other passengers as Anne Leeds and Marcella Dalsey.
The names of the fourth passenger and the three crewmembers aboard were not immediately known. Schiada said the official release of victims’ names would be up to the Middlesex district attorney’s office. That office said it did not anticipate releasing any names today.
Schiada said the plane, a Gulfstream IV manufactured in 2000 that was bound for Atlantic City, N.J., was fragmented and “most of it is consumed by fire.” Some of the pieces likely landed in the water at the bottom of the gully, he said.
Schiada said the Gulfstream had flown into Hanscom at around 3:30 p.m. or 3:40 p.m., and its crew had stayed with the plane.
Schiada emphasized that the investigation was at its “very beginning” and it was too early to draw any conclusions about the cause. He said there was no reason to think the crash was anything but an accident, though nothing had been ruled out.
He said investigators would, among other things, scrutinize the pilots’ experience and the aircraft’s history; look for surveillance video; and interview witnesses. He said investigators were in the process of searching for the flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder for the plane.
All seven bodies were found in the plane. Schiada said he was hopeful all the bodies could be removed by the end of the day.
He said it was his understanding that there were no unusual communications between the plane and the tower before the crash.
Investigators will develop a comprehensive report and send it to the safety board in Washington, which will ultimately determine a probable cause for the crash, Schiada said.
“The sole purpose is to develop the facts, conditions, and circumstances and make recommendations to prevent future accidents,” he said.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and those who perished,” said Ed Freni, aviation director for Massport, which operates the airport.
The tragic incident rattled residents who live in the leafy community near the airport.
Jennifer Davies, a 40-year-old resident of nearby Saran Avenue, said she was sitting outside Saturday night enjoying her family’s new fire pit when the accident occurred.
“I heard a plane take off, which is normal and something we hear all the time,” she said. “But then there was a small boom, and I heard the plane accelerate more. The engines really revved up. It just started screeching. Then there was a huge, gigantic explosion and I couldn’t hear the engines anymore.”
Davies said after the large explosion, she heard one final, muffled “boom,” followed by a series of loud noises as the plane apparently plowed into objects on the ground.
“Every time it would hit something, I would hear another explosion, then red embers and debris and things would fly up into the air. It was absolutely horrific.” The plane “just kept blowing up,” she said.
Resident Jeff Patterson, 43, who also lives nearby, said the flames rose 60 feet in the air. His 14-year-old son, Jared, said the explosion rattled the house.
“I heard a big boom, and I thought at the time that someone was trying to break into my house because it shook it,” said Jared Patterson. “I thought someone was, like, banging on the door trying to get in.”
Firefighters arrived quickly at the scene and were able to extinguish the flames in a short time, the Pattersons said.
The fire was fuel-driven, a law enforcement official briefed on the crash said. It produced mostly smoke instead of flames.
Once the fire was out, investigators confirmed the passengers were dead and the scene was frozen so evidence would be undisturbed, the official said.
Steve Cass, vice president of communications for Gulfstream Aerospace Corp., said the Gulfstream IV is a two-engine plane that is certified to hold up to 19 passengers but most often is configured to hold 12 to 16. The cockpit contains two seats, for a pilot and copilot, Cass said. He said the Gulfstream IV “has a very, very good safety record” and that the manufacturer would cooperate fully with the NTSB investigation.
The plane’s tail number was N121JM. The Gulfstream IV plane registered under that tail number is owned by North Carolina-based SK Travel LLC, according to FAA records.
A Gulfstream can hold as much as 4,400 gallons of fuel, but would commonly only fly with the amount of fuel necessary for the trip, Cass said. The plane did not take on fuel in Bedford, Schiada said.
The flight-tracking web site,, showed that a Gulfstream IV with the tail number N121JM left Wilmington, Del., at 1:25 p.m. Saturday and arrived at Atlantic City International Airport at 1:33 p.m. It left there at 2:56 p.m. and arrived at Hanscom at 3:44 p.m., according to the site.
Prior to that, the plane was last flown on May 20, when it went from Wilmington to Morristown, N.J., then to Cleveland and back, according to the site.
Katz, a philanthropist and businessman who once owned the New Jersey Nets, had attended a fund-raiser in Concord Saturday afternoon at the Concord home of historian Doris Kearns Goodwin and her husband, Richard Goodwin, who was an adviser to Democratic presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson.
Doris Kearns Goodwin and her son, Michael Goodwin, issued a statement saying, “The death of Lewis and his colleagues is a crushing and devastating loss.”
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver issued a statement saying Katz was a “visionary businessman” and a “trusted friend and valued member of the NBA family.”
Anne Leeds was a well-known member of the Longport, N.J., community and the wife of Longport Commissioner James P. Leeds Sr., the Press of Atlantic City reported on its website.
Marcella Dalsey was executive director of the Drew A. Katz Foundation, and president of KATZ Academy Charter School, which she cofounded with Lewis Katz in 2012, the Inquirer reported.
Former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell said Katz had tried on Friday to persuade him to join him on the trip, but he had another commitment. Rendell told The Associated Press that Katz died at ‘‘maybe the high point of his life,” thrilled after winning an $88 million auction for the Inquirer, the Philadelphia Daily News, and
On Saturday night, from parking lots behind office buildings on Hartwell Avenue in Lexington, smoke could be seen rising from the end of the runway, a cloud lit by floodlights and flashing emergency lights. Smoke hung in the air throughout the area.
An acrid odor similar to that of burning tires could be smelled as far away as Cambridge and Boston. Cambridge police fielded “numerous” calls about the smell of smoke shortly after the crash, said Jeremy Warnick, a department spokesman. Warnick said the number of calls was in the “double digits” and mostly from North Cambridge.
Boston residents called the city’s fire department “almost nonstop” between 11:15 and 11:45 p.m. Saturday, mostly from the Back Bay area, department spokesman Steve MacDonald said today. “We had quite a few calls of people reporting something burning” that the department attributed to smoke from Bedford area, MacDonald said.
The airport was closed after the crash as emergency personnel arrived. It remained closed this afternoon. Freni, the Massport official, said people who had planned to fly into the airport would have to make other plans.
The crash occurred near a stream, but Freni said environmental officials had been notified and the Clean Harbors cleanup company was at the scene. He said residents should not be concerned about contamination of their drinking water.
“We’ve got booms out there. We believe we’ve contained what we need to,” he said.
Bedford officials said in a statement that the Shawsheen Wellfield, located near the crash site, was shut down immediately. The wellfield represents only a small fraction of the town’s water supply; the vast majority comes from the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority. “Therefore residents should not expect any disruptions in their home and business water systems,” the officials said.
Kristine Sacco, 35, has lived in her home near the edge of Hanscom since birth. As a child, she recalled, her family would occasionally evacuate the house during Thunderbird air shows, since the Air Force had designated the neighborhood a potential crash site in case of an accident.
When Sacco heard a loud noise that rattled the windows Saturday night, she initially assumed it was a plane backfiring, or one of the many other loud noises that routinely emanate from the airfield.
But when teens in the street started yelling, “The plane went down! The plane went down!” she looked outside and was alarmed to see smoke.
Sacco said the plane did not catch fire immediately, but smoked and smoldered for perhaps two minutes after the crash before bursting into intense red flames. “There was a huge plume of black smoke just billowing up into the sky,” Sacco recalled.
Sacco said she shepherded her four daughters inside, while her husband sealed windows and vents to block out the noxious fumes. While Bedford has assured residents the town’s water supply is safe, Sacco said she bought bottled drinking water out of an abundance of caution.
She also had to reassure her children, who were rattled by the dramatic crash close to home. “One of my young ones was scared to go to bed last night,” Sacco said. “She didn’t ever think this was a possibility. I told her, ‘I can’t say it’s not going to happen, but in 35 years, this is the first time.’ I try to be honest.”
L.G. Hanscom Field was built during World War II on 500 acres of land in the towns of Bedford, Concord, Lexington, and Lincoln, according to Massport.
The facility operates jointly as a public general aviation airport and as a resource for the adjacent Hanscom Air Force Base. Officials said the plane was on Bedford property.
More coverage:
Globe correspondents Melissa Hanson and Nicholas Jacques, and Eric Moskowitz of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Dan Adams can be reached at Find him on Twitter at @DanielAdams86.Melissa Hanson can be reached or on Twitter @Melissa__HansonJeremy C. Fox can be reached Follow him on Twitter @jeremycfox.Nicholas Jacques can be reached

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