Pilot dies in plane crash in Winchester, N.H.

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WINCHESTER, N.H. — Emergency personnel responded to Scotland Road at just before 11:30 a.m. on Thursday after receiving a 911 call about a possible plane crash in Mirey Brook Swamp, which straddles the state line between Winchester and Warwick, Mass.

Following an intensive search that ended around 5:40 p.m., searchers confirmed a downed aircraft in the vicinity of Curtis Pond off of Warwick Road, also known as Route 78. They also confirmed the pilot of the aircraft was dead.

The first call to 911 came in around 11:20 a.m., after Kumaran Spaulding heard a strange noise in the air. Spaulding was walking in a field on his father's property on Scotland Road with his 13-year-old son, Darian, who was visiting from Indiana. Darian Spaulding said he heard the sound of an airplane engine but it sounded like the engine was being throttled up and down. Then he and his father spotted the airplane pop out of the low-hanging clouds before it went over the tree line and disappeared from view.

While Kumaran Spaulding said he heard what appeared to be the sounds of a crash, Darian said "Suddenly, the valley was very silent."

Emergency personnel from around the region — including members of the Winchester Fire Department and Winchester Police Department, the Walpole Fire Department, the Keene Fire Department, the New Hampshire State Police and New Hampshire Fish and Game — converged in a field on the Spaulding property shortly after the Spauldings called 911. At the same time, other witnesses were also making emergency calls.

Bradley Brewer was working in his barn on Manning Hill when he heard the same sounds Kumaran and Darian Spaulding described. "I heard an engine sputtering and I heard one whale of a thump right in line with the trees and nothing after that. It made the hair on my arms stand up."

Lt. Aaron Cooper, of the Keene Fire Department, was put in charge of the search team. He told the media that they had received nearly a half-dozen phone calls reporting the crash and at the time considered it very credible that the crash had occurred.

As emergency personnel were working to triangulate the location using the witness accounts, a pair of drones were launched from the field on Scotland Road to search Mirey Brook Swamp, which straddles the state line between New Hampshire and Massachusetts. With more information collected, the drones returned to the field and Winchester Fire Chief Barry Kellom moved the command center to the Winchester Fire Department at about 3:20 p.m.

Fire Mutual Aid then sent a call out to recruit 20 people to conduct a foot search of the area where the plane was suspected of crashing.

Kellom held a press conference at the fire department at 3:30 p.m. He said accounts from different witnesses matched up and it was just a matter of triangulating the witness accounts to determine where best to conduct the search. Fish and Game wardens were searching the Upper Snow Road and Manning Hill Road area, which he described as ledgey and mountainous.

"At this point, any search will be very challenging and time consuming," said Kellom during the press conference. "But right now we are taking this as a rescue operation so time is of the essence."

With a weather front expected to move into the area around 6 p.m., all search helicopters had been grounded.

"We've been in contact with airports and they have no reports of missing aircraft or even any aircraft that has taken off," said Kellom. At 6:45 p.m., when Kellom held a press conference with Fish and Game Warden Lt. Dave Walsh and Michael Todd, from the N.H. Department of Safety, it was still unknown where the plane had originated from or who the pilot was.

"It's in the hands of the [Federal Aviation Administration] and the [National Safety and Transportation Board] now," said Kellom.

He described the area the plane was found in as heavily wooded and "a tough-access location." At the time of the press conference, law enforcement personnel were securing the scene in advance of the arrival of investigators from the FAA and the NSTB.

Birch, Radder and Audette can be contacted at news@reformer.com


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