Pilot killed, passenger hurt when plane strikes house Home's occupants escape unharmed in morning crash

October 14, 1998|By Devon Spurgeon | Devon Spurgeon,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Dan Thanh Dang and research librarian Robert Schrott contributed to this article.

Pat Rodenhauser was in her nightgown pouring hot water into a coffee maker when a plane slammed into her two-story home yesterday morning, killing the pilot and critically injuring the passenger.

She and her daughter ran screaming out their front door.

The plane, reporting on traffic conditions for local radio stations, appeared to be trying to land in heavy fog at Bowie's Freeway Airport when it crashed 100 yards short of that destination into the Rodenhauser house, setting it ablaze.

"We heard an airplane flying very close, then a crack and a thud when it hit the ground," said Rodenhauser, 54. She was unhurt, as was her 34-year-old daughter, Kimberly, who'd been packing a lunch for work in the kitchen. "Then fire and smoke just started pouring in the back of the house, I grabbed anything I could and ran."

The pilot, Douglas Duff, 42, of Alexandria, Va., was pronounced dead at the scene.

Mike Ripley, who lives near the Rodenhausers, pulled traffic reporter Rob Edgar, 31, of Falls Church, Va., from the wreck. He suffered burns over 40 percent of his body and a broken leg and pelvis.

He was listed in critical condition at Washington Hospital Center's burn unit.

The plane was on fire when it smashed into the back porch and plowed into Kimberly Rodenhauser's bedroom about 6: 50 a.m. It had taken off from Montgomery County Airpark in Gaithersburg 50 minutes before it crashed.

"If it was on a weekend or an hour sooner, I would have been in my bed sleeping," said Kimberly Rodenhauser.

The Rodenhausers have lived in the gray two-story home with black shutters for 35 years. Pat Rodenhauser's former husband Stanley owns and manages Freeway Airport, which his father founded in the late 1940s.

Investigators have not determined what caused the crash which severely damaged the Rodenhauser's Bowie home. At last radio contact the pilot said they were going to go look at traffic around College Park, said Beverley Davis, air safety investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board.

The Federal Aviation Administration does not keep specific records on accidents involving traffic planes or helicopters.

Investigators suspect that fog played a role in the crash. Conditions deteriorated suddenly, and fog was hanging below the tree line.

"The weather condition was very dynamic," said Doug McNeeley, airport manager at Montgomery County Airpark. "Fog was coming in and out very quickly in different places."

"I am not sure if he was trying to land, with the fog bank that was here I am not sure if he could see the runway," said Stanley Rodenhauser.

Duff had flown for Congressional Air Charter Inc., the Gaithersburg company that owned the 1977 four-seat single-engine Cessna 172XP plane, for the past year. He has had his pilot's license since 1993, said Monty Lilley, Congressional's owner.

"He had a tremendous sense of humor and he had a reputation for being a careful and safe pilot," said McNeeley.

Congressional Air Charter contracts with Metronetworks Inc., to provide pilots and planes for morning traffic updates beamed to television and radio stations throughout the Washington area.

"Considering the amount of time we fly, most people would say that we have a very strong record of safety," said Benson Riseman, regional vice president for Metronetworks.

In addition to requiring that all pilots be certified, he said, the company flies pilots and reporters in pairs. Other companies require pilots to fly and give reports.

Pub Date: 10/14/98

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