The pilot of an antique single-engine airplane was killed late Saturday afternoon when it crashed just off the runway of the Limington airport, authorities said.
He was identified as Clarke Tate, 52, of Gray.
The Federal Aviation Administration said the plane went down about 4:45 p.m., minutes after taking off from the airport. The FAA said the plane was a 1942 Culver LFA, a two-seat aircraft, and was headed to Auburn-Lewiston Municipal Airport.
Mahmoud Kanj, owner of the Limington-Harmon Airport, said the plane crashed to the side of the airport’s paved 3,000-foot runway, which runs roughly north to south. The plane came down in a wooded section about 200 yards off the runway, said York County Chief Deputy William King Jr.
King said a witness told deputies that the plane appeared to bank to the left just before the crash and might have been trying to return to the airport.
The FAA and investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board will be in Limington on Sunday to begin their investigation of the crash, King said.
King also said fuel leaked from the plane after the crash and was doused with foam by Limington firefighters, one of whom was overcome by heat and was taken to Maine Medical Center in Portland. His condition wasn’t known Saturday night.
King said the Maine Department of Environmental Protection determined that the crash site was safe.
According to a Web page devoted to the Culver Cadet, as the plane is known, about 400 of the wooden planes were built from 1938 to 1942 and fewer than 30 still exist.
It was clear Tate’s plane was in trouble shortly after takeoff, said Diana Chase, secretary-treasurer of the Limington chapter of the Experimental Aircraft Association. Tate had joined the organization two years ago and flew to Limington on Saturday to help prepare for the group’s annual fly-in, scheduled for Sunday morning in Cape Elizabeth, she said.
Chase said she was at the airport at the time of the crash, but didn’t see it because she was putting items for the fly-in in her car. Another pilot told her that he watched Tate’s plane take off and it appeared to be pitched up too high shortly after becoming airborne. Then, the other pilot told her, the plane began drifting to the left and crashed.
That suggests that Tate was struggling to get the plane airborne, said Chase, who is also a pilot.
“(Tate) was just telling us how great it was running,” Chase said. “He was really enjoying flying the plane.”
Chase said Tate worked at Maine Aviation in Portland and flew charter trips in an executive jet.
Tate’s 72-year-old plane always attracted attention at group events, she said.
“I’ve never seen another one and I’ve been around aviation since the ’70s,” she said.
After Tate helped with details of the fly-in, he told Chase and her husband, Roy Chase, that he needed to get home but would see them at the fly-in, which is held at a farm in Cape Elizabeth.
Although the FAA said Tate was flying to Auburn-Lewiston Municipal Airport, Chase said Tate typically flew to a small airstrip in Turner when he was headed home.