A Cessna 180's smooth, full-throttle take-off from Hampton Airfield Monday morning went terribly awry when the plane suddenly sputtered and stalled, then crashed nose-first into the woods. The crash killed the pilot and a male passenger, authorities said.
“The plane was going nice and even and all of a sudden it went straight up,” a pilot who lives next door to the North Hampton airfield said of the 10:50 a.m. crash. “I heard the plane struggling. I knew there was something wrong ... Then it just turned and nose-dived into the ground.”
The 1956 fixed-wing, single-engine propeller craft crashed into a grove of trees near a grass airstrip where about 150 people gathered for an annual Labor Day event, according to the Federal Aviation Administration and North Hampton Fire Chief Dennis Cote.
The plane bears the registration N6510A, National Transportation Safety Administration spokesman Peter Knudson said. Authorities on Monday released the name of the pilot, David E. Ingalls, 81, of Kingston, and his passenger, Bruce Anderson, 62, also of Kingston. FlightAware.com, a flight-tracking website, matched the plane’s registration to Ingalls as the owner.
The crash remains under investitgation by the National Transportation Safety Board, the FAA, the New Hampshire State Aeronautics Division, N.H. State Police and North Hampton Police.
According to a news release isseud by North Hampton Police Chief Brian P. Page, investigators have some preliminary information about how the crash may have happened, but did not say exactly what that was. The finanl determination will not be known for anywhere from three to six months, Page said based on "my past experiences in working with the FAA and the NTSB on fatal plane crashes."
Ingalls, a U.S. Air Force pilot who later pilote commercial aircraft, was well-known for his consevation efforts in the town of Kingston. Anderson owned a Kingston tree service business.
"Kingston has just had an unbelievable loss," Kingston Conservation Commission Chairman Evelyn J. Nathan said Monday night, referring to Ingalls. She said he was revered for his outstanding community service, particularly as a member of the Conservation Commission on which he served for decades before retiring in March.
“He was the anchor of the Conservation Commission here in town for 30 years. Nobody can imagine what Kingston would be like without him,” she said.
A former U.S. Air Force and commercial airline pilot, Ingalls loved flying his Cessna as much as he and his wife, Muriel, enjoyed kayaking on Kingston Lake, bicycling along local roads, and working to protect the lake and open space, she said.
David Ingalls is credited with helping protect more than 2,000 acres of forest land during his decades on the commission — a feat for which the town dedicated a trail in his name and appointed him an “honorary lifetime member.”
“He was active in everything,” Nathan said of Ingalls, whom she said appeared to be in his 80s.
“He was that person who always came when you needed somebody...He was always there to help me. A boots-on-the-ground kind of guy,” she added.
Selectman Peter V. Broderick described Ingalls as "a real gentleman" who "worked very, very hard for the town."
"He was just a terrific guy," Broderick said.
State Rep. Kenneth Weyler, R-Kingston, remembered Ingalls as quiet and easy-going, with a strong devotion to his family and community.
"He was easy to know. Easy to get along with. This is just a tragedy. But it’s not one you would attribute to lack of skill," Weyler said.
Weyler, who is a retired Air Force and TWA pilot, said Ingalls was a highly skilled pilot who flew regularly.
The airfield is on Route 1 in North Hampton. Fire Chief Cote said the plane rose into a steep vertical position shortly after take-off, was unable to recover, then veered and plunged into trees.
“It’s just an awful tragedy,” said Dana Thurston, a pilot from Stratham who said he frequently uses the Seacoast airfield. “The guy was a good pilot and it was a solid airplane.”
The tail of the aircraft was visible and nearly upright in a grove of trees within a large area cordoned off by police.
Cote said the crash was not related to the annual Labor Day festivities at the airfield. It was the second Labor Day plane crash at the airfield during the last decade. Two Massachusetts residents were hurt when their Cessna crashed into a hangar in 2006.
A National Transportation Safety Board investigator was due to arrive Monday to begin the investigation into the cause of the crash, Knudsen said.
The town of Kingston dedicated its 2013 annual Town Report to David Ingalls in recognition of his service to the town.
“Dave — despite having been voted ‘Most Bashful’ by his high school class — has lived a life of service that has touched many who may never even have met him,” Selectmen wrote in their tribute to Ingalls upon his retirement from public service.
Ingalls and his wife, who raised two children, also were active in the First Congregational Church, where David Ingalls was a deacon, the selectmen wrote.
Ingalls often used his plane to perform aerial property inspections and served with the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension Service, the selectmen said.
An employee at the Airfield Café said customers and airfield regulars “were devastated” by Monday’s crash.
The airfield on Route 1 is home to numerous hangars and the café. A sign on the café door said Monday’s Labor Day festivities were scheduled to include a lobster feast and a “bomb drop,” in which passengers drop bags of flour at a target placed on the grass airstrip.
“It’s one of our biggest events of the year,” the employee said.