Oak Bluffs pilot killed in Sunday plane crash
Little was left of the home-built Lancair 360 that crashed into the State Forest on Sunday. Most of the aircraft was destroyed by fire. Photo by Ezra Blair
An Oak Bluffs man died when the home-built airplane he was flying crashed into the State Forest shortly after takeoff from the Martha's Vineyard Airport Sunday afternoon.
James Rogers, 55, an experienced pilot and aviation mechanic, was flying a single-engine Lancair 360 that he built at his Oak Bluffs home over the last three years.
According to airport officials and eyewitness reports, shortly after taking off from runway six, at about 12:05 pm, Mr. Rogers reported a problem with the airplane and requested an immediate landing. After turning the aircraft around to return to the airport, Mr. Rogers lost altitude and crashed into a thickly wooded area of the Manuel F. Correllus State Forest, about 250 feet from the perimeter of the airport property. The crash caused a fire that emergency responders were able to keep contained to a small area around the crash site.
The cause of the crash is under investigation. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the Massachusetts Aeronautic Commission (MAC), and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) are all investigating the incident.
Airport officials said that a friend of Mr. Rogers had videotaped the flight. Sean
Flynn, acting airport manager, said that he had not seen the video, but he said that it would likely help investigators piece together the events leading up to the crash.
James Rogers was at the controls during this successful flight Sunday morning, before his second flight of the day ended in tragedy. Photo by Joseph Rogers
The Sunday afternoon flight was Mr. Rogers's second ever, and the second of the day, in the home-built airplane. Earlier that morning, he had taken the plane up for a short test run. Witnesses said that Mr. Rogers had reported some "roughness" from the engine. When he landed, Mr. Rogers did some work on the plane before taking off for the second flight.
While it was his first day up in his own Lancair 360, it was not Mr. Rogers's first time flying that particular aircraft. According to airport officials, Mr. Rogers had flown the plane when another pilot brought one to the airport while Mr. Rogers was still building his plane.
The Lancair 360 is a low-wing, single-engine, two-seat plane that is built from a kit. It has retractable landing gear, and airport officials described it as "a very fast aircraft."
Mr. Rogers was a well-known figure in the aviation community on Martha's Vineyard. He grew up on Long Island, N.Y., and moved to the Vineyard with his wife Andrea Rogers 20 years ago.
James Rogers stands next to one of his airplanes at Young Eagles Day at Katama Airfield in October 2003. Photo by Denys Wortman
In a conversation with a Times reporter on Tuesday, Ms. Rogers recalled her first visit to the Island with her husband. "We had actually flown here for a little day vacation," she said. "We landed the plane at Katama Airfield and taxied to the beach. I think we were pretty much hooked after that."
Ms. Rogers said that her husband grew up flying airplanes. His stepfather, who owned a flight school on Long Island, began teaching him to fly when he was seven years old. "He flew an airplane before he even drove a car," said Ms. Rogers.
Mr. Rogers purchased his first airplane, a Piper J3-Cub, when he was 16 years old. "He used to fly that all around New York, around the Statue of Liberty and under bridges, back when you could do those things," said Ms. Rogers.
After graduating from high school, Mr. Rogers was drafted into the Vietnam War. He did two tours of duty flying Bell JetRanger helicopters. Along with combat missions, Mr. Rogers was charged with flying Gen. William Westmoreland, who commanded U.S. forces during the war from 1964 to 1968.
After the war, Mr. Rogers joined the reserves at Fort Devens. After moving to the Island, he joined the reserves at Otis Air National Guard base on the Cape, where he worked as an air safety officer.
With his many years behind the yolk and under the hood of airplanes, Mr. Rogers amassed a hefty list of flying credentials, including a commercial pilot license and an airframe and power plant license for working on airplanes.
He became a key figure in the aviation community on Martha's Vineyard. He was the president and one of the founders of the local Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) chapter on the Island, and was in the process of building a new hanger at the airport.
Mr. Flynn said, "Jimmy Rogers stood out as a key member of the community here at the airport. He was a pivotal figure."
Mr. Flynn said that Mr. Rogers's combination of flying and mechanical experience made him a talented aviation professional. "I have flown with him, and he was an excellent and a very technical pilot," said Mr. Flynn. "He knew the ins and outs of the airplanes that he flew, not just from the pilot's point of view, but from the mechanical point of view as well."
Denys Wortman, a past president of the local EAA chapter and friend of the Rogers family, also praised Mr. Rogers' aviation experience. "He was a true professional," said Mr. Wortman. "He was a really multi-talented guy."
Ms. Rogers also stressed her husband's professionalism and safety-minded attitude. "I want him to be remembered as person who would never have gone up had he known something was really wrong," she said. "He was an excellent mechanic. He really knew airplanes… I think that something went wrong with the airplane at the worst possible moment, something that could not have been prevented, because if there had been a way to survive it, Jimmy would have found it."
Mr. Rogers is survived by his wife Andrea and his four children, Jennifer, from his first marriage, and Jaime, Alisha, and Joseph from his marriage with Andrea.
A funeral service will be held for Mr. Rogers at the Chapman, Cole and Gleason Funeral Home, on Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road, in Oak Bluffs on Saturday, at 11 am. Guests are asked to arrive between 10:30 am and 10:45 am.
Following the funeral service there will be a celebration of Mr. Rogers's life and a potluck reception at the Agricultural Hall on Panhandle Road in West Tisbury. Island veterans and members of the Otis Air National Guard will perform military honors.
Donations can be made to the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) Young Eagles, P.O. Box 3086, Oshkosh, WI 54903-3086 in Mr. Rogers's name. Donors should include EAA ID number 303304.