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2 Die as Plane Strikes 3 Houses in Connecticut

The pilots are killed, but no one on the ground is seriously hurt. Several people are left homeless.

August 05, 2003|John J. Goldman | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — A small, private jet struck three houses in Groton, Conn., Monday before plunging into a river, killing the two pilots on board.

Authorities said 13 people were left homeless or told they could not return to the neighborhood, but no one in the plane's path was seriously injured.

The Learjet-35A was en route from Farmingdale Republic Airport on Long Island to the Groton-New London Airport when the accident occurred, 20 minutes before the control tower in Connecticut opened.

Ross Finlayson, 17, said he was walking out of a friend's house when he heard a "whooshing" sound and realized the plane was too low.

"There had to be something wrong, so we ran down the street," Finlayson said in a phone interview.

"It clipped the top of the first house and took off some shingles and fishtailed off that house and went through the second house," Finlayson said.

The left wing was pointing down, the teenager said, and pieces of the plane started breaking off. "Then it started cartwheeling through the third house," he said. "Then it cartwheeled down the bank and exploded, and everything was just thrown to either side of the river.

"We could barely breathe, and there was smoke everywhere," Finlayson said, adding that the Poquonock River "was on fire."

He said a woman jumped from a first-floor window of one of the homes after the residence was struck.

"All she could say was, 'My house fell on top of me,' " Finlayson said. "She was shaking."

Officials at the Connecticut airport said the two pilots, whose names were not immediately released, were the only people aboard the aircraft. There were thunderstorms earlier in the area, but it was not foggy. It was not raining when the accident occurred.

John Basilica said his 70-year-old sister, Rose Peret, lost the house she had lived in since World War II. "Pieces of the plane hit the house next door and bounced into her living room and, like, exploded," he said.

Peret's daughter Janice was asleep in a nearby bedroom that was not struck by parts of the aircraft, Basilica said.

"My sister was in shock watching her house burn," Basilica added.

Two large pieces of the fuselage protruded from the Poquonock River. Authorities said the plane's recorder box was recovered, as were the bodies of the pilots. Investigators were studying tapes of radio transmissions from the aircraft to try to determine the cause of the crash.

Finlayson said that, in addition to striking the homes, the plane "cut a van right in half" and that burning jet fuel in the river ignited a small speedboat.

"It was the wildest thing I ever saw," he said.

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