A small twin-engine plane that had just made two unsuccessful attempts to land at fog-shrouded Dulles International Airport plowed into a section of Reston town houses yesterday, killing the pilot and two people trapped indoors.
Pilot Joe L. Reid, 41, was deliver [WORD ILLEGIBLE] plane alone from Columbus, [WORD ILLEGIBLE] to a new owner in the Washington area. He was cruising east of the airport, about 2,000 feet over Reston, when his plane "dropped off the radar screen," according to Robert Logan, chief of air traffic control at Dulles.
The plane plunged through two Reston town houses, obliterating one of them. It came to rest in a gap between sections of houses, but its two engines continued into the brick wall of another section.
Paul F. Luke, who lives in the house where the engines landed, said "there was a loud explosion that shook the house and sent dust flying . . . I ran outside in my underwear to find out what had happened."
It was several hours after the 2:12 p.m. crash before two bodies were recovered from the ruined town house, the home of Harry and Susan Ottinger. The bodies were presumed to be those of the Ottingers but Fairfax County police said that posiuve identifications could not be completed until today. The Ottingers' 7-year-old daughter, Jennifer, was not at home the time of the crash.
Maria Kiebe, who lives in the Hunters Green town house complex, was in the laundry room when she heard a "terrible, terrible noise." She said she ran out of the house and encountered Luke running down the sidewalk in his shorts. [WORDS ILLEGIBLE] a Fairfax County police officer who had the day off, was [WORDS ILLEGIBLE] the kitchen of his house nearby when he saw "a ball of flame as tall as the house" where an explosion occurred after the plane crashed.
O'Day said he called the Fairfax County Fire Department, then ran to the scene to see what he could do.
Although one town house was destroyed, another two were badly damaged and at least four more had some damage, there were no reported injuries to survivors on the ground.
One of the badly damaged town houses belongs to Luke, the other to Jerome and Carol Cohen. Cohen is employed by the Federal Aviation Administration.
Neighbors feared from the first that the Ottingers had been trapped inside. The bodies were found in the basement of the town house, near steps leading to the parking lot.
Neighbors and friends told reporters that Harry Ottinger, about 30, was a computer analyst for Software A.G. at the nearby International Center in Reston. Susan, his wife, about 28, was a teacher aide at a Montessori school in Herndon.
The Ottingers usually met at home for lunch about 1 p.m. and did so yesterday. Daughter Jennifer, a pupil at Reston's Terraset Elementary School, had come home with her mother, then had gone to visit friends.
Reid was the chief pilot for Ohio State University, which has a small fleet of planes at its own airport in Columbus. According to FAA and Ohio State officials, Reid had checked the weather conditions yesterday, then filed an instrument flight plan for Dulles. He took off from the OSU airport exactly at noon.
The plane, a Piper Aztec, had been kept at the OSU airport for some time and had been used regularly, according to an OSU spokesman. It was sold recently by a Kentucky owner to a Washington area man and Reid was making the delivery. Routine maintenance had been performed on the plane before takeoff, the OSU spokesman said. Reid was not on university business. He is survived by his wife and three children.
FAA officials said Reid was a fully rated air transport pilot, which means he was qualified for instrument (bad weather) flying. His flying record contained no disciplinary actions.
Reid first approached the Dulles runway about 2 p.m. according to tower officials. The runway, 1 Right, is the easternmost of the two parallel south-north runways at Dulles. It is heavily instrumented with the most technically advanced landing guidance systems.
Logan, the air traffic control tower chief, said that Reid broke off his first approach to the runway - a standard procedure if a pilot cannot see the landing lights or the pavement. He was sent back around, tried it again, and again broke off the approach.
Visibility was about zero at the time, according to FAA and National Weather Service officials. There were no thunderstorm cells or high winds, and there should have been no turbulence, aviation experts said.
After the second "missed approach," as the procedure is called, pilot Reid asked the tower for information on weather conditions at Washington National Airport and Baltimore-Washington International.
Told that they were about the same, he said, according to Logan, "I'm going back to Ohio." The tower asked if he wanted to try at Martinsburg. W. Va., he said yes, and he was given instructions. He made a turn to the north, then disappeared from the radar screen.
At no time, according to Logan and other FAA officials, did Reid indicate he had any kind of trouble or declare an emergency.
Carol Cohen, the Ottinger's next door neighbor, said, "I must have heard something. I was watching the Lucy Show: I turned off the TV and ran out the door. I saw the plane coming down almost right at me. I saw him (the pilot) do a huge 90-degree trun trying to get between the town houses. He didn't make it."
There was some speculation that Reid may have been trying for an emergency landing on the 17th fairway of the South Reston Golf Course, which is adjacent to the town house complex.
The National Transportation Safety Board assumed control of the crash investigation.
The Ottingers, Mrs. Cohen said, were "bright, creative, loving young people. This couldn't have happened to them." Another friend said they had moved to Reston about three years ago from New Jersey, where Harry Ottinger had been with a small computer firm.
Jennifer Ottinger was spending last night with neighbors spending the arrival of relatives from the Midwest.
The Piper Aztec was the second private plane to crash into a Fairfax County residential area within nine months.
On April 28, a small business jet carrying four people exploded over McLean after taking off from National Airport. Wreckage was scattered over two square miles. Although there were no injuries on the ground, a number of homes were damaged.
"For years I've thought about a plane coming down on us," Carol Cohen said yesterday, "and now it almost did. It makes you think about wanting to move."