A single-engine turboprop plane crashed in a neighborhood at the edge of the downtown Leesburg historic district yesterday afternoon, killing two people on board and fatally injuring a third, who died yesterday evening.
It was the second fatal crash of a small plane in a Leesburg residential area in the last eight months. The accidents were about a mile apart, just north of Leesburg Municipal Airport. In both crashes, witnesses said the pilots managed to avoid hitting the heart of the town of 28,000. Yesterday, the plane nearly hit the home of the owner of a Leesburg real estate company but went down in his back yard instead.
"That pilot did a good job. He set it down between four houses," said Ben Cumbie, 31, of Mammoth Lakes, Calif., who was visiting his Leesburg family. Cumbie said the plane, which federal officials identified as a Socata TBM-700 turboprop, came down in a narrow space near four houses, a tight fit because of the size of the six-seat aircraft.
The plane's pilot, Donald W. Fitzpatrick, 58, of Reston, and co-pilot Gregory D. Jackson, 42, of Sterling were killed in the crash, Virginia State Police Trooper E.R. Buracker said. The third person on board, Bronson Byrd, 56, of Purcellville, was taken to Inova Fairfax Hospital, where he later died, Buracker said.
The plane took off from Sarasota, Fla., and stopped in South Carolina, where a passenger was dropped off, Buracker said. The aircraft was due to land at 3 p.m., he said.
No one on the ground was hurt. Although no homes were damaged, people in about a dozen nearby residences were evacuated, most of them briefly, because of spilling fuel. The plane did not catch fire.
Investigator Leah Yeager of the National Transportation Safety Board said the plane, which was based at Leesburg Airport, was returning from a trip and preparing to land when the crash occurred at 2:46 p.m. Witnesses reported poor visibility because of fog.
"We haven't determined whether the weather was a contributing factor," Yeager said. "Witnesses saw the aircraft bank and descend into the trees. It came to rest about six to nine feet from the house."
The crash occurred off West Market Street, the town's main east-west thoroughfare, at Ayr Street, which is the western entrance to the historic district.
A few blocks away are the county courthouse, the historic Tally Ho Theater and Laurel Brigade Inn, a Colonial-style restaurant and inn. The neighborhood includes a mix of Victorians and newer, in-fill houses as well as a Sunrise assisted-living facility, Loudoun Hospital Center and a long-term nursing care facility.
The plane just missed the home of Bob Brown, 63, who owns Brown-Carrera Realty in Leesburg. No one was at home, but his daughter, Robin Frank, 39, of Leesburg, said later that the family was shaken.
"It's really scary. My dad's really upset. We're all upset," Frank said. "Our first reaction was we could care less about the house. We were worried about the people in the plane thinking, 'Oh my God, they might not have survived.' "
Ben Cumbie's mother, Marilyn, a retired real estate agent who lives in Leesburg, said the plane "clipped some limbs off some big trees. It was foggy out."
Designed for corporate use, the plane is manufactured by Socata Aircraft USA, a subsidiary of EADS Socata, one of the world's leading producers of piston- and turbine-powered single-engine aircraft. The Socata TBM-700 uses Pratt & Whitney engines. FAA records show the plane is leased to High Performance Technologies Inc. of Arlington. It was last certified to fly on Jan. 22. Officials at High Performance could not be reached.
In the July crash, the pilot of a single-engine plane was killed when he steered his disabled aircraft away from downtown Leesburg and crash-landed nearby in a driveway at the end of a cul-de-sac. A preliminary federal report found that a partial loss of engine power could have been the cause, but a final report has not been issued.
Staff writer Alison Howard contributed to this report.