A small plane crashed in a remote, wooded area of Massachusetts — killing the popular owner of a flight school, an instructor and a student pilot on board, officials said.
The twin-engine Beechcraft 55 Baron took off about 11 a.m. Sunday from Westfield-Barnes Regional Airport and crashed a short time later near Leyden, killing all three occupants, police said.
They were identified as Fredrika Ballard, 53, of Southwick, who owned the Fly Lugu Flight School; instructor William Hampton, 68, of Indian Orchard; and student pilot Chad Davidson, 29, of Woodstock, Connecticut.
Emergency workers responding to calls from dog walkers in the Leyden Wildlife Management Area about 12:30 p.m. located the wreckage and the bodies of the three victims, Boston 25 reported.
Ballard, a second-generation pilot who began flying solo at 16, was an active member of the International Organization of Women Pilots and Women in Aviation International.
She frequently flew the ill-fated six-seater to various destinations across the region, including to Martha’s Vineyard, with her husband, friends and sometimes her dog, Violet, MassLive reported.
In October, Ballard was among the Women of Impact for 2023, a title given by BusinessWest, a business journal where she detailed her flying experience.
She left her lengthy career in health care in 2019 to launch Fly Lugu, where she was the sole instructor at first, according to MassLive.
Last year, the flight school employed seven instructors including Ballard, who also was an operations manager at a maintenance shop at the airport, MassLive reported.
The school maintained a fleet of seven aircraft.
“Because of their aircraft operations and fuel purchases, their activities are part of the airport’s overall growth,” Barnes Airport manager Christopher Willenborg said last year, according to the outlet.
“She has slowly grown the number of aircraft based here. It’s about a partnership and her activities are part of an overall system that is helping grow this airport,” he said.
Ballard also owned AeroDesign Aircraft Services, a local aviation maintenance and restoration service she started in 2021 with her husband, Joseph Ballard, according to the report.
The Kiwanis Club of Westfield, a volunteer organization, mourned Ballard to on its Facebook page.
“We are deeply saddened to learn of the untimely and tragic passing of our dear friend and fellow Kiwanian Fredrika Ballard on Sunday. Our hearts go out to her husband and family, and all of her many friends,” it wrote.
“An accomplished pilot and an astute businesswoman, her loss will be keenly felt throughout our community,” the post adds.
In a statement, the National Transportation Safety Board said an investigator was sent to the site after the plane crashed “under unknown circumstances.”
“Once on site, the investigator will begin the process of documenting the scene and examining the aircraft,” the statement says. “The aircraft will then be recovered to a secure facility for further evaluation.”
One witness, Mark Duprey, said he was standing at Leyden Road and Barton Road when he watched the plane descend from the sky in a “corkscrew manner.”
“I thought it was someone fooling around doing acrobatics until it began to nosedive,” Duprey told The Greenfield Recorder.
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