A Metro story Saturday on the crash of a private plane in New Jersey reported incorrectly that the pilot had a license from the National Transportation Safety Board. The safety board is an investigative agency and does not issue pilot licenses. The license was issued by the Federal Aviation Administration. (Published 12/01/1999)
A small plane flown by a seasoned flight instructor crashed into a Newark neighborhood yesterday morning, killing the Bethesda pilot, his wife and daughter, injuring 22 people on the ground and leaving a trail of demolished buildings and flaming cars in its wake.
Itzhak O. Jacoby, 53, a director at the Bethesda-based Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, which trains military doctors, his wife, Gail Jacoby, 50, an administrator at the National Institute on Aging, and their daughter Atira Jacoby, 13, were aboard the plane when it crashed just before 11 a.m.
The single-engine 1964 Beech Bonanza 35 took off in fog and rain from Linden (N.J.) Municipal Airport at 10:45 a.m. and was en route to Dulles International Airport, Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Jim Peters said. Air traffic controllers lost radio and radar contact with it five minutes later.
Family friends said the three were returning from a Thanksgiving visit with an older daughter, Orit Jacoby, an architect who had recently married and lives in New York.
Originally, Linden Mayor John Gregorio said the plane's occupants had been advised at the airport not to fly because of bad weather. Skies were cloudy with light rain at the time. However, National Transportation Safety Board lead investigator David Muzio said at a news conference that the report was unconfirmed. He also said it was not known if weather had played a role in the crash.
"I have no theories whatsoever," he said, adding that the NTSB would investigate the crash.
One minute after takeoff, the pilot radioed that the plane was in trouble, Muzio said. Jacoby then radioed twice more, reporting problems with the gyroscope, used to help keep the plane level, and then air controllers lost radar and radio contact, the NTSB said.
Friends of Jacoby's, including fellow pilots, said he was a highly experienced pilot unlikely to misjudge weather conditions.
"I am absolutely amazed. Something must be wrong with the plane. Something mechanical must have caused this," said Rene Bonnel, a next-door neighbor in the 5400 block of Beech Avenue. "That's the only way."
Said Doug McNeeley, manager of Montgomery County Airpark in Gaithersburg, "This is about as far as you can get from the [John F. Kennedy Jr.] situation."
McNeeley said Jacoby had more than 20 years of flying experience and taught courses at the air park on piloting in rough weather.
Jacoby also taught basic flight-safety courses to new pilots. National flying organizations frequently asked him to teach because he was both a seasoned college educator, at home in the classroom, and a veteran pilot, McNeeley said.
It is the pilot alone who decides whether to take off or land, according to standard air traffic control practices.
Jacoby had never flown into the Linden airport, said John Lewis, of Derwood, a friend of 15 years and fellow pilot. Just before he left, Jacoby called a New Jersey-based air traffic controller to check for last-minute changes in flight patterns, something he rarely did, said Lewis, who was expecting Jacoby to arrive at Dulles for an 11:30 a.m. lunch with him.
Jacoby was flying to Dulles rather than the Montgomery airport because of the low clouds and limited visibility forecast for the area, Lewis said. The Gaithersburg airport was rated "instrument conditions" yesterday afternoon, which meant pilots would have to rely almost entirely on their cockpit instruments to land and take off.
Police said Jacoby's plane hit a factory, which was set afire, and broke apart before striking a KFC fast-food restaurant, which was closed. The street between the restaurant and the factory was littered with burned cars, one with its roof sheared off.
One body landed on the grass and sidewalk next to the restaurant; the two other bodies were found in the street, witnesses reported. Several witnesses said they saw body parts and plane parts scattered in the area.
Ibrhim Hussien, 32, was one of three workers in the factory when the plane hit. All three escaped injury. "I heard something like a bomb," he said. "It shook the building."
Rhonda Savage, who lives in the neighborhood, said, "All the cars on the block were on fire."
Newark Mayor Sharpe James said an off-duty police officer saw the plane spinning out of control and losing altitude before it crashed. It hit a tree, the factory and three cars as it tried to regain altitude.
Rogers Ramsey, spokesman for University Hospital in Newark, said 22 people on the ground--19 adults and three children--were admitted for treatment. A 59-year-old Newark man was listed in critical condition after sustaining first- and second-degree burns and chest trauma. A 29-year-old woman was listed in fair condition after undergoing emergency surgery for second- and third-degree burns, in addition to a right ankle fracture and facial trauma, Ramsey said.
The remaining patients were listed in stable condition and were expected to be released yesterday, he said.
Itzhak Jacoby was a professor and director of the Center for Health Quality Assessment at the military medical university. He formerly was a director at the National Institutes of Health. He received his bachelor's degree in industrial engineering from the Israel Institute of Technology and held a doctorate in operations research from Cornell University.
Jacoby learned to fly in the Israeli air force, Lewis said. He was shot down once during combat, in 1973. Shortly thereafter, he moved to the Washington area and became a regular at Montgomery County Airpark.
He held the NTSB's airline transport rating, the board's highest, qualifying him to fly commercial aircraft. Though Jacoby saw flying as a hobby, he still logged more hours in the air than many of the 1,000 or so pilots who use the air park regularly, Lewis said.
Jacoby taught his surviving daughter, Orit, to fly. The family often traveled by air. Jacoby had flown as far west as Hawaii, east to Israel and south to the Caribbean. He also was a volunteer pilot with the Coast Guard Auxiliary, helping patrol the Chesapeake Bay.
With his older daughter just graduating from Princeton University and his success as a professor, Jacoby "was an extremely happy person in the prime of his life," McNeeley said.
Gail Jacoby was chief of planning at the National Institute on Aging. She had been involved recently in an agency-wide effort to redefine the institute's mission, an NIA spokeswoman said. She specialized in analyzing research proposals for scientific merit.
NIA Director Richard J. Hodes said she was at "the peak of her career" and "set standards for herself that were higher than any that we could set for her."
She had an undergraduate degree from Cornell University and a master's degree in planning and analysis from George Washington University.
She was born and raised in Newark.
She loved music and spent much time singing with the NIH Chamber Singers, performing regular concerts around the agency's campus in Bethesda.
Atira, a freshman at Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda, was a viola player in the Montgomery Youth Orchestra.
Staff writers Steven Gray and Don Phillips, staff researcher Karl Evanzz, the Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.