Oulton Hues, a flight instructor and well-known member of the close-knit Martha’s Vineyard aviation community, and Robert Walker of East Falmouth died in a plane crash in Cape Cod Bay during a training flight on Sunday morning, January 15.
Mr. Hues, 73, of Edgartown and Norwood, and Mr. Walker, 68, a private pilot and co-owner of the single-engine Piper Comanche, were the only ones on board the four-seater plane. Their bodies were found in the ocean off of Saint’s Landing Road in Brewster at about 3 pm Sunday.
Yesterday, a team that included investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and a specialized salvage company from Delaware worked to raise the fuselage. Wintry conditions hindered the salvage effort in icy waters about one mile off Brewster.
A final NTSB report on the probable cause of the accident could take up to one year to complete.
On Sunday morning, Mr. Walker flew from Falmouth Airport to Martha’s Vineyard to pick up his flight instructor, airport manager Sean Flynn told The Times in a telephone call. Mr. Flynn said the Falmouth pilot was experienced and working on a more advanced rating.
The small private plane departed Martha’s Vineyard Airport for Barnstable Municipal Airport in Hyannis at 9:20 am. The men began practicing hold patterns over the Cape.
“The pilot reported smoke in the cabin, then said it cleared and told the controller he wanted to continue practicing,” Jim Peters, spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), said in an email to The Times.
“At 10:10 am, controllers at the FAA radar facility at Otis lost communications and radar contact,” Mr. Peters said.
The plane was last verified flying at an altitude of about 2,000 feet, about 10 miles northeast of Hyannis and about a mile off the shore.
The FAA contacted Coast Guard Sector Southeastern New England command center at 10:23 am, Sunday, to report they had lost all communication with the airplane after receiving the report from the crew of smoke in the cabin, and provided the plane’s last known position. The Coast Guard and Coast Guard Auxiliary began an immediate search for the aircraft, assisted by Cape fire and police departments.
“The command center diverted a Coast Guard Auxiliary aircraft and a Coast Guard HU-25 Falcon jet crew from their scheduled patrols to search,” according to a Coast Guard press release. “They also launched an MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew from Coast Guard Air Station Cape Cod and a 41-foot utility boat crew from Coast Guard Station Cape Cod Canal. A 47-foot motor lifeboat crew from Coast Guard Station Provincetown was also launched.”
The command center crew contacted the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center to inquire if they received any reports of a crashed aircraft or if the plane’s beacon went off. They had not received a report of either.
As the air and land-based search got underway, a body was spotted in the surf off Brewster.
“The two men aboard the small aircraft were located deceased by a Coast Guard MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew from Air Station Cape Cod and a Brewster Fire Department crew at Saint’s Landing in Brewster,” the Coast Guard said in a press release issued Sunday afternoon.
The Brewster Fire Department located the first body in the surf, and the helicopter crew located the second soon after.
“The search conditions were challenging, but we had good communications with the Dennis Police Department and other ground crews, which enabled us to direct ground crews to the second person when we located him in the surf,” said Lt. J.G. Jared Carbajal, the Coast Guard helicopter co-pilot.
“It’s a sad way to end a flight,” Mr. Carbajal said. “It’s certainly not the outcome we were hoping for, but I just hope the families will be able to have some closure.”
“First and foremost, our thoughts and prayers go out to the family and friends,” said Lt. Joe Klinker, 1st Coast Guard District public affairs officer. “We could see it on the faces of all the first responders. Everyone was hoping the search would end very differently.”
The PA-24 Piper Comanche is described in aviation literature as a high performance airplane that features retractable landing gear.
The plane was co-owned by Mr. Walker and Margaret M. Johnston of East Falmouth, according to NTSB records.
NTSB investigator Ralph Hicks told The Times Tuesday that he is working with the insurance company that covered the plane and an aircraft salvage company to recover the wreckage. He expected that operation would be complete this week.
“Once we do that, then we will be taking it to a facility in Delaware where we will examine all the recovered pieces, and we will bring in the technical expertise that we need,” he said. “In the coming days we will be looking at radar data and any other information that we can use.”
Highly respected pilot
Mr. Flynn, the Martha’s Vineyard Airport manager, said the loss of both pilots will be felt deeply. He said Mr. Hues was liked and respected in the tightly knit Island aviation community.
“He was a fantastic pilot,” Mr. Flynn said. “He was a very proficient pilot.”
Mr. Hues traveled to the Vineyard almost every weekend and was well known to the entire airport staff, Mr. Flynn said. The mood was somber at the airport.
“We all have our jobs to do, but we’re still human,” Mr. Flynn said. “It’s a personal loss to everyone, as well as a professional loss to the airport.”
Mr. Walker was also well known among Island pilots.
“He and his wife did angel flights quite frequently out of our airport,” Mr. Flynn said. “We knew them on a professional and personal level from the great work they were doing to supply transportation for those people that needed to get to area hospitals.”
Angel Flight is a nonprofit organization of pilots that provides patients and their families free transportation to medical facilities.
“Bob flew missions for Angel Flight NE until October 2007,” Larry Camerlin, president of Angel Flight New England said in a statement to The Times. “His wife, Molly, has flown nearly 90 Angel Flight NE missions while Bob served as co-pilot in their Piper Comanche, which was registered with and certified by the FAA.
“Certification of an aircraft by the FAA ensures that aviation aircraft meet the highest standards. We will continue to keep Bob and the flight instructor’s family in our prayers during this difficult time.”
Dana Thornton of Edgartown, an electrical contractor and private pilot, was a close friend to Mr. Hues. In a letter to the editor, Mr. Thornton said Mr. Hues was a meticulous pilot and flight instructor.
“He was calm, cool, and collected,” Mr. Thornton said. “It was only natural to be along or to have him along for the ride. Whether to Plymouth for breakfast, or to the Bahamas. He was mentor to many and friend to all.”