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Tue, Aug 05, 2003

Learjet 35 Down In Connecticut

Two Crew Members Killed

A Learjet 35 (file photo, right) en route from Long Island (NY) plowed through several houses before coming to rest partially submerged in Groton (CT) Monday. Witnesses say debris was scattered along a half-mile long path.

"It is amazing that no one on the ground was seriously hurt," said the Groton town fire marshal, Michael Richards. The aircraft was turning left toward final when its wing clipped a house and then tore through two more homes. The aircraft exploded in a fireball in the Poquonnock River around 6:40 a.m., witnesses said.

The plane left Republic Airport in Farmingdale (NY) at 6:11 a.m., headed for Groton, where it was to pick up a single passenger for a charter flight, according to Stephen M. Demko, an investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board.

FAA records show the aircraft, bearing the tail number N-135PT, is owned by Jetpro of New Hyde Park (NY). It was leased and operated by Air East, a charter service based at Farmingdale. A first look at the aircraft's record indicates no harm, no foul before Monday morning. "There is nothing in our database showing any accidents or incidents involving this particular aircraft or any other aircraft registered to Air East Charter," said FAA spokeswoman Arlene Salac. The Lear 35 was to take its lone passenger from Groton to Buffalo (NY) before returning to Groton, according to Demko. The NTSB investigator said, judging from where the wreckage was found and from witness accounts, it seemed that the pilot was wide to the right of the proper course for a landing on Runway 23 at the airport. "From what I understand, he was in a left-hand turn."

"He signaled that he had visual contact with the airport," Demko said, indicating that the crew was going to land the plane manually instead of using instruments. The weather at the airport was clear, although there were clouds in the vicinity, according to forecasts and observations.

Tom Neigel, 38, said he was drinking coffee in bed when he heard a thunderous roar outside. He jumped up and ran to the window, to see a plane heading right at his house.

"It all happened so fast," he said. "The next thing I saw, the wing clipped the house next to mine, went into the trees and blew up in the river." His son, Matt, 12, ran outside with his father. "I went out the door and all I saw was this black smoke and these big flames and I was like, `Oh, my God,'" said Matt.

The elder Neigel, whose house was just outside the Lear's flightpath, said he and his son helped Rose Peret, 72, and her daughter Janice get to the street, where the women watched their house burn down. "They watched their entire life go up in flames," said the fire marshal.

Before coming to a stop, the Lear 35 tore through 47-year old Gloria Aldana's house. "She jumped through the window with the cordless phone in her hand and called me right away. She was screaming and crying and didn't know if her son was in the house sleeping," said her sister-in-law, Ditas Manuel. Fortunately, the son wasn't home.

The FAA Preliminary Accident Report

IDENTIFICATION
  Regis#: 135PT        Make/Model: LJ35      Description: 35, 36 (C-21, RC-35, RC-36, U-
  Date: 08/04/2003     Time: 1450

  Event Type: Accident   Highest Injury: Fatal     Mid Air: N    Missing: N
  Damage: Unknown

LOCATION
  City: GROTON   State: CT   Country: US

DESCRIPTION
  ON APPROACH TO RUNWAY 23, THE AIRCRAFT CRASHED .5 MILES SHORT OF THE RUNWAY, STRIKING A HOUSE AND GOING INTO THE RIVER. TWO PERSONS ON BOARD WERE FATALLY INJURED, UNKNOWN INJURIES TO PERSONS ON THE GROUND, OTHER CIRCUMSTANCES ARE UNKNOWN, GROTON, CT

INJURY DATA      Total Fatal:   2
                 # Crew:   2     Fat:   2     Ser:   0     Min:   0     Unk:   
                 # Pass:    0     Fat:   0     Ser:   0     Min:   0     Unk:   
                 # Grnd:          Fat:   0     Ser:   0     Min:   0     Unk:   Y

WEATHER: UNK

OTHER DATA
  Activity: Unknown      Phase: Approach      Operation: General Aviation

  Departed: FARMINGDALE, NY             Dep Date: 08/04/2003   Dep. Time:
  Destination: GROTON, CT               Flt Plan: UNK          Wx Briefing:
  Last Radio Cont: 2 MI SW OF GON AT 3000FT
  Last Clearance: UNK

  FAA FSDO: WINDSOR LOCKS, CT  (NE03)             Entry date: 08/04/2003

FMI: www.grotonnewlondonairport.com

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