AOPA Communications responded throughout the holiday weekend to numerous media questions following the November 26 crash of a 1964 S-Model Bonanza into a residential/commercial area of Newark, New Jersey, injuring some 22 persons on the ground, including three seriously. Instrument failure was reported by the pilot, a highly experienced flight instructor, but news reports focused on statements by officials of nearby Linden, New Jersey (the departure airport), that the pilot took off into poor IFR weather against the advice of airport personnel.
Killed in the crash were Dr. Itzhak Jacoby and family members. Jacoby was a Ph.D. in operations research who worked for the U.S. Public Health Service, the National Institutes of Health, and, most recently, for the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Maryland, where military physicians are trained. Recently, he traveled regularly to Moscow to assist the new Russian Republic in public health issues. Jacoby was a close friend of AOPA. His wife was born and raised in Newark. They were visiting an older daughter in the New York area.
AOPA helped correct initial media assumptions about the general aviation pilot’s qualifications, especially since Jacoby was an instructor for American Bonanza Society safety programs and a former AOPA Air Safety Foundation instructor. The “private pilot” was, in fact, a former Israeli Air Force pilot who held an airline transport pilot certificate and was a well-known Washington-area CFI. He was also a volunteer pilot for the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary.
Unfortunately, media questions then speculated that Jacoby’s “fighter pilot” background suggested an excess of bravado. This speculation was muted somewhat after published reports that weather at nearby Newark Airport included 2.5 miles visibility despite apparently low IFR conditions six miles away at Linden Airport.
Garnering most coverage were statements by Linden’s mayor and airport manager that line personnel had advised the pilot not to take off. This story later even morphed into a reporter’s impression that the pilot took off against instructions from the control tower. AOPA reminded the reporter that Linden Airport does not have a control tower.
In addition to detailing pilot-in-command responsibilities and authority, and explaining that ground personnel with little or no pilot training or experience often express such concerns to pilots, AOPA also covered in detail the workings of gyroscopic instruments and backup procedures after gyro failure.
The crash caused substantial damage to automobiles and property, including the roof of a fast-food restaurant, which was closed at the time. An abandoned factory was hit and caught fire.
Any crash involving ground injuries raises public concern, but Newark and surrounding cities are particularly sensitive to aviation safety. In the early 1950s, Newark and nearby Elizabeth, New Jersey, were hit by a string of crashes into populated areas by airliners departing Newark Airport.
Linden Airport has been more recently in the news. The once-threatened airport was recently reconfigured to just one runway following a compromise sell-off of a portion of airport property for commercial development. AOPA was interviewed just last week by The Newark Star-Ledger on why Linden Airport remains important to the area.
Other area airports (such as Solberg and Central Jersey Regional–the former Kupper Airport) are also under community pressure as New York-area suburban sprawl reaches further south and west.
Media reports said the pilot reported gyro failure about 90 seconds into the five- or six-minute flight. Linden Airport is served by a GPS approach and a remote communications outlet for IFR clearances by radio on the ground. Newark is served by ILSs to Runways 4L/4R but likely was in a southerly operation to Runways 22L/22R at the time. Caldwell/Essex County Airport to the west has localizer, NDB, and GPS approaches to its Runway 22.
The instrument flight was bound for Washington Dulles International Airport in northern Virginia, where ILS approaches offer lower minimums than the nonprecision approaches to the aircraft’s Montgomery County Airpark home base in suburban Gaithersburg, Maryland.
AOPA worked extensively with The Newark Star-Ledger, and also with The Bergen Record, The New York Times, and cable TV news outlet MSNBC.
November 30, 1999