A student pilot and his instructor were killed yesterday when their small plane crashed in a wooded area about 300 yards from Leesburg Executive Airport, a Virginia State Police official said.
Peter C. Jesinsky, 43, of Purcellville and his instructor, Craig M. Schulz, 24, of Middleburg, flew from Leesburg to Winchester, Va., early yesterday, then crashed about 9:30 a.m. on the return trip, police said.
Sgt. Terry Licklider, a state police spokesman, said Jesinsky was operating the plane when it went down, but officials with the National Transportation Safety Board would not confirm details of the crash.
"The investigation is in very preliminary stages," said Brian C. Rayner, an NTSB air safety investigator and spokesman. A preliminary report will be completed within 10 days, but it could be a year before the board makes a final determination, he said.
The plane, a single-engine Piper Warrior PA28-161, was operated out of Av-Ed Flight School Inc., based at the Leesburg airport.
"His passion was flying," Dale Schulz, a residential home builder from Middleburg, said of his son, Craig.
Schulz said his son grew up in Middleburg and graduated from Loudoun County High School in 1999. Afterward, he attended Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla., before returning to Northern Virginia, where he began teaching at Av-Ed Flight School. He was trying to get more flight time, his father said. The younger Schulz was living with a friend in a Leesburg apartment not far from his father and mother, Barbara, a teacher at Aldie Elementary School.
Jesinsky was from Paramus, N.J., and had moved to the Washington area his senior year of high school, said his brother Ed Jesinsky. He had a masonry business with his wife, Carole Ann, in Purcellville, and the couple planned to sign papers yesterday to adopt a baby, the brother said.
Jesinsky said the couple returned in September from a trip to Alaska with his parents, who live in Charles Town, W.Va. On the trip, Peter Jesinsky rode in a helicopter, loved it and started taking helicopter flying lessons. "He switched over to airplane lessons last week, believe it or not, because he thought it was safer," his brother said.
It was the sixth crash near the airport in five years, according to the Air Safety Foundation, a nonprofit organization affiliated with a pilot trade association. Three of those crashes involved fatalities.
Three of the crashes occurred within nine months, from July 2002 through March 2003, all within a few feet of homes, prompting residents to call for closure of the airport and an investigation by the Federal Aviation Administration.
"We found that the airport was operating properly and up to standards, and that's still accurate today," said Jim Peters, spokesman for the FAA's eastern region. He said the report included recommendations for safety improvements, such as better lighting and a new landing system to help pilots when visibility is poor.
Leesburg officials have since applied for $4.5 million through the FAA to fund some of the recommended improvements, Peters said.
"This is a safe airport," said Chris Dancy, spokesman for the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, a trade group representing more than 400,000 pilots. He said the Leesburg airport handles about 45,000 flights annually.
About one crash a year has occurred in the proximity of other area airports since 2001, according to the Air Safety Foundation.
At Frederick Municipal Airport, four crashes have occurred; Manassas Regional Airport has had five; and Montgomery County Airpark in Gaithersburg has had two. The only other reported fatality in that period was at or near the Manassas airport.
All those airports handle more air traffic annually than the Leesburg airport, according to FAA records. The Montgomery County airport handles about 50,000 flights a year, and the Manassas and Frederick airports handle closer to 75,000 each.
Sam Legard, a pilot who has flown out of the Leesburg airport for more than 30 years, stopped by the crash site. He said the airport has a small, tight-knit community of pilots that is like a family.