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Plane crash kills two after pilot overcome by fumes

January 17, 1997

ALTON, N.H. (AP) _ A passenger forced to take control of a small plane after the pilot passed out flew over three states Friday before she too was overcome by carbon monoxide fumes. The plane crashed and both were killed.

The two-hour drama began in Connecticut and continued in the skies over Massachusetts and New Hampshire as air traffic controllers coached the increasingly groggy woman and National Guard helicopters tried in vain to catch up to the plane in hopes of giving instruction.

``We were trying to intercept and do something,″ said Connecticut National Guard Maj. Mark Rousseau. ``It was a hopeless situation as far as trying to catch it.

Added helicopter pilot, Chief Warrant Officer Doug Duguay: ``We never even caught sight of it. We didn’t have a chance.″

The red and blue plane, a single-engine Piper Cherokee flying from Farmingdale, N.Y., to Saranac Lake, clipped the treetops and crashed near Lake Winnipesaukee in southern New Hampshire. Rescuers searching through the dense woods found the seats and bodies thrown from the plane.

``There was no doubt there were no survivors,″ said Jerry DeLemus, one of the first rescuers to reach the wreckage.

The two victims were not immediately identified. The Federal Aviation Administration said the plane was registered to David Riach of Babylon, N.Y.

The first word of trouble came at 11:30 a.m. when the Sikorsky Airport in Stratford, Conn., received an emergency alarm that the plane was about 10 miles from the field with an unconscious pilot and female passenger with no experience at the controls. It was unclear whether the passenger or the pilot sent the message.

Immediately, air traffic controllers in New York tried to coach the passenger, who was initially reported to be a teen-age girl, into landing the plane. Controllers said she was becoming lethargic, possibly from fumes that had affected the pilot, said Michael O’Donnell, an official at Sikorsky.

Neither Sikorsky nor Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks, Conn., was able to establish contact with the plane as it headed north. And the helicopters that gave chase also were unable to talk to the inexperienced flyer.

``I was setting up a flight instructor so we could talk it down if we could get communications, but there were no radio communications,″ Rousseau said.

New Hampshire Fish and Game officials said a private pilot also followed the plane up from Connecticut all the way to the crash site and saw a trail of smoke. Pilot Harold Hamre, who monitored the plane’s radio transmissions, also told investigators he believed the passenger was the pilot’s wife, said Fish and Game Capt. Jeff Gray.

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