EAA Chapter President, Passenger Lost In Accident
Family and friends were gathered at New York's Oswego County
Airport to witness the inaugural flight of Frank Romeo's home-built
Lancair Legacy Saturday afternoon.
Instead of a celebratory conclusion to the flight, those friends
and family are in mourning.
Romeo, 61, and friend Bill Hodge, 62, who had been helping Romeo
build his plane for three years, died in a crash at about 2:30 pm
in Volney, said Oswego County Sheriff Reuel Todd.
Among those invited to the first flight were Romeo's wife and
Hodge's fiancée, who could only watch as the plane crashed,
reported The (Syracuse) Post Standard.
According to friend Jack Briggs, who helped harness in both men,
"The takeoff was perfect. It looked flawless. I can't imagine what
Briggs, a former Navy pilot who flew for 62 years and a former
flight instructor, said Romeo decided to fly his plane for the
first time Saturday because the weather was decent.
"It sounded like an engine going off and on," said Dorothy
Doney, who operates a bed and breakfast near the crash site. "It
was more like a pop than a boom. You could tell something was
According to Briggs, the Lancair appeared to be less than 500
feet from the ground when Romeo started to make a turn.
"He was just starting his first turn, then the plane disappeared
behind the hangars. I expected to see him coming back over to the
field, but then I saw people running," Briggs said.
"That first flight is always very critical. You're not positive
everything is going to go well, but this one baffles me," Briggs
added. "I'm totally blown away by this."
Romeo, president of EAA
Chapter 486, based at Oswego County Airport, had been flying since
1968 and flew B-52 bombers during the Vietnam War.
Building the plane had become a "full-time job" since his 2005
retirement from Constellation Energy, Romeo wrote on the EAA Web
According to Hodge's fiancée, Janet Calp, Hodge had begun
building his own plane, but unable to complete it due to time or
money, he worked on Romeo's.
The two men traveled to the Lancair factory in Oregon to begin
assembling the aircraft. After that, Hodge would make a weekly trip
to Romeo's garage to work on the plane, said Calp.
Briggs said an FAA representative inspected Romeo's
high-performance aircraft Thursday and gave him a certificate to
fly the two-seater, single-engine plane.
The sheriff confirmed only that several family members were at
the airport. He did say friends videotaped the takeoff, but that
did not know whether they recorded the crash.
"Their family members were watching the plane take off," Sheriff
Todd said, "and they watched it go down."
The plane crashed a quarter-mile from the runway, shaving off
the bark of a tree about 100 yards from the back of Mark and Carol
Wilcox's Volney home.
"It was like a real heavy thud. It vibrated the house," Carol
Wilcox said. "I peeked through the blinds and there it was."
"I was on the phone with my husband," she said, and told him, "I
have to go, I have to call 911, there's a plane down in the back
A neighbor, Leonard Ostness, also heard the crash.
"We hear the airplanes flying around all the time," Ostness
said. "This one seemed to be awfully loud. All of a sudden the
engine was off momentarily, then it came on, then it went off, then
bang. It just went 'whump.'"
Said Hodge's fiancée, "When they went up there, they were
absolutely ecstatic. They both died doing something they loved. In
their last moments they were absolutely ecstatic."
The accident remains under investigation.