'I can't believe they walked away'

Thursday, Sept. 17
SHEFFIELD -- The plane, a Cessna 208 with a pilot and five passengers, hit the soybean field off Route 41 at about 2:30 p.m. Tuesday, flames licking at its fuselage. It was about 300 feet from Kelsey Road at that point, but heading south toward the road. Rapidly.

The craft jolted over the field, carving deep grooves into the field -- still visible Wednesday. The plane struck a ditch about 150 yards from Kelsey, a rough dirt road that juts west to east from Route 41. At that point, it lost its front wheel, according to police. The three grooves in the field became two.

Things got a little hairy after that.

The plane skidded into a stone fence and a large maple tree. It was the tree that probably ripped its right wing clear off. The plane then skidded -- or bounced -- across Kelsey Road and came to rest facing Route 41.

The stone wall remains blackened by fire.

Remarkably, there were no injuries. When Sheffield police arrived at the scene, the passengers and pilot reported only minor bumps and bruises.

"I can't believe they walked away," said Edward G. McCormick, Sheffield's emergency management director. "They had quite a ride."

Adding to the drama was the volatile cargo that remained in the burning plane: blasting caps and a chemical compound that is sometimes used to clean large furnaces. The explosives were in a specially sealed fireproof case. But with the fuselage on fire, police felt it expedient to evacuate several houses near the crash site, and close off Kelsey Road, much to the consternation of television, print and radio reporters and photographers, not to mention the usual coterie of rubberneckers.

Taking no chances, the state police bomb squad then detonated the blast caps around 8:30 p.m. on Tuesday due to concerns about them overheating, according to McCormick.

Engines give out

The explosion, according to Sheffield police, was heard for several miles in all directions, prompting several calls to the police station.

The Federal Aviation Administration is continuing to look into the accident. But according to investigators, the pilot was forced to make the emergency landing after a fire started on the plane's underside, which caused the engines to give out.

The pilot and his five passengers, whose names have not been released, managed to escape unharmed before the plane burst into flames. On Tuesday night, they were interrogated by FAA agents.

The plane, which was en route from Farmingdale, N.Y. to Saratoga Springs, N.Y., was trying for the Great Barrington Airport on Route 23. But four miles from the airfield, the pilot began looking for somewhere else to land, probably because of his engine problems.

The cause of the fire remains undetermined, but an NTSB spokesman said more information should be available in the next few days.

On Wednesday, the charred wreckage was still splayed on both sides of Kelsey Road. FAA agents were to have removed the craft by yesterday, but delayed that action and expect to remove it today, according to Sheffield police.

The passengers worked for NorthAmerican Flight Services Inc., a company in Ballston Spa, N.Y. that offers charter flights.

On Wednesday, the smell of gasoline lingered in the air. Only bent and burnt pieces of the tail section and engine remained. The entire center portion of the fuselage was destroyed in the fire.

‘It was really just surreal'

Nick Joseph, of Sheffield, was a half-mile north of the accident scene when he saw the plane flying low overhead with a streak of flames coming from underneath. He and his girlfriend followed the plane to the crash site, fearing the worst when they saw a plume of black smoke rise into the air.

"It was really just surreal and kind of frightening to see. It was like watching a movie," said Joseph. "When we saw the black smoke it really hit us because we didn't know what we were going to see, but fortunately they're all right."

Various onlookers came to the site throughout the day Wednesday to survey the damage. Each was amazed by the fact that no one was injured. And for that, Joseph said, the pilot deserves recognition.

"I think the pilot really did a remarkable job and he deserves a lot of credit for being able to land the plane," he said.

To reach Trevor Jones: tjones@berkshireeagle.com, (413) 528-3660.


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