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2012 Canton Plane Crash: Pilot May Haven Mistaken Illuminated Parking Lot For Airport

plane crash cantonBy DAVID OWENS

CANTON — The pilot of a small airplane that crashed in Canton 16 months ago may have mistook an illuminated parking lot along his flight path for the runway at Simsbury Airport and accidentally descended into Onion Mountain, crashing the airplane, according to a National Transportation Safety Board investigation report.

The pilot, Donald Derocher, 73, and his wife, Josephine, 74, died when the aircraft struck trees and then the ground about 6:30 p.m. Nov. 19, 2012. The couple, who lived previously in Windsor Locks and Tolland, was flying from their home in Live Oak, Fla. to Connecticut to attend the funeral of Donald Derocher’s father, who’d died two days earlier.

The NTSB found no problems with Derocher’s 1965 Piper PA-28-180 and noted that were no significant weather issues as he approached from the southwest.

Derocher had taken off about 5 p.m. from an airport in Pottstown, Pa. for the final leg of the trip to Simsbury.

According to the NTSB report, Derocher acknowledged an advisory from an air traffic controller at Bradley International Airport at 6:22 p.m., and then two minutes later radar contact was lost when the aircraft was at 900 feet above sea level and about 70 feet above the ground, about six miles southwest of Simsbury Airport.

The investigation found that the aircraft struck several trees, had a wing torn off, then plummeted into the ground. The pilot of the state police helicopter, which was summoned to aid in the search for the plane, told investigators he was “surprised” by how dark it was in the area of the crash.

The helicopter pilot also noted a lighted area about a mile east of the crash site that turned out to be a lighted parking lot. The plane’s flight trajectory would have carried it over the lot.

Derocher did not have an instrument flying rating and in the previous year had only one hour of night flying time, according to the report. Overall, he had 962 hours of flight experience.

The NTSB attributed the crash to “ground light illusions,” in which a pilot mistakes lights along a straight path, such as a road, or even lights on a moving train for runway approach lights.

A pilot overflying terrain with few lights, such as the area around Onion Mountain the night of the crash, may make a lower than normal approach, according to Federal Aviation Administration’s Aeronautical Information Manual.

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