2 dead in plane crash in Northeast Philadelphia

May 22, 2008 3:23:58 PM PDT
A student pilot and instructor were both killed in a plane crash today, while practicing takeoffs and landings at Northeast Philadelphia Airport. The plane, a Grumman AA-1C, hit the ground around noon, caught fire, and then ended up under tractor trailers at a nearby T.J. Maxx warehouse facility. Northeast Philadelphia Airport, the smaller of the city's two airports, is located near the Roosevelt Boulevard and Red Lion Road. No one on the ground was hurt and the fire was under control within 20 minutes, officials said.

Battalion Chief Derek Sawyer, of the Philadelphia Fire Department, said "the fire department responded. We put the fire out. Right now there's a major investigation going on by the FAA."

Investigators looking for the cause will piece together what remains: a broken propeller, landing gear, a portion of the plane's bright green wing. The aircraft is identical to a sister ship owned by locally-based Hortman Aviation Services Inc., a flight school and rental company.

At the controls of the Grumman trainer plane today were a student and Hortman instructor. The plane had left runway 33, with the pair practicing takeoffs and landings commonly called "touch and go's." The plane was taking off once again when it crashed.

"On the climb out there was no indication of any problems whatsoever and the tower asked them to make a turn as soon as practical and apparently they started to make a right turn and that's what appears to be a stall spin accident," said Herb Hortman, of Hortman Aviation.

If that is the case the plane would have rapidly lost altitude. The National Weather Service reported that the wind was blowing at around 10 mph at the time of the crash, but Hortman said it should not have been a factor.

The plane was a few hundred feet off the ground at the time of the accident Hortman said. There were no signs of mechanical failure or other problems before the crash.

He says the instructor was a veteran pilot. It was not the student's first time in a plane, either.

"He was just finishing the final stages of his private pilot's license. The instructor had been working here for close to 2 years, but had received all of his training here, had fairly decent experience, approximately 1700 hours of flying time, so he was not a brand new instructor," Hortman said.

The young instructor had just recently interviewed with an airline and was a well-rounded pilot who hoped to make aviation his career, Hortman told Action News.

The FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board will investigate, said Holly Baker, a Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman in Atlantic City, N.J.

The victims' identities have not formally been released, pending notification of family members.