Plane crashes, burns in Huntly; N.H. couple lives

Only the tail of a single-engine Mooney M20 airplane remained uncharred by the time volunteeer firefighters reached the smoldering wreckage in a pasture near Jericho Road (about mile east of Wakefield Country Day School) Saturday afternoon.
Bob Clements
Only the tail of a single-engine Mooney M20 airplane remained uncharred by the time volunteeer firefighters reached the smoldering wreckage in a pasture near Jericho Road (about mile east of Wakefield Country Day School) Saturday afternoon.

Though she remains hospitalized in critical condition, a New Hampshire woman and her husband walked away from a plane crash last Saturday afternoon (March 3), when their single-engine aircraft apparently experienced engine trouble, forcing them to crash-land in a Huntly cow field.

Virginia State Police (VSP) identified the pilot as Brian Crathern, 61, his 57-year-old passenger as Mary Crathern, his wife, both from Alton, N.H. She remained Wednesday in the intensive care unit at University of Virginia Medical Center in Charlottesville. Her husband was taken to Winchester Medical Center Saturday, and has been released. A family member told an eyewitness of the crash that Brian Crathern was a surgeon in New Hampshire, Mary Crathern a nurse.

Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and VSP reports on the accident note that the couple suffered burns as a result of the crash, and that the female’s burns were serious. Records also indicate that they were headed home, having departed from Georgetown, Ga. – intending to refuel in Hagerstown, Md. – on the way to Concord, N.H. State police said the pilot reported that the plane experienced engine trouble, and at about 1:45 p.m. he was forced to make an emergency landing in a pasture off of Jericho Road. (Jericho intersects with U.S. 522 between Flint Hill and Huntly, a rolling area of alternating pasture and woods about a mile east of Wakefield Country Day School).

Jericho Road resident Bob Clements – who first reported the crash to the Rappahannock County Sheriff’s Office – was likely the last to see the plane in the air. Clements said he was in his horse barn when he heard a loud, on-again, off-again engine sound Saturday afternoon. He noticed his three horses had run to the fence line and were all looking skyward; Clements followed their gaze and saw a small plane that he said was flying dangerously close to the ground – estimating 10 feet. He said the plane “impossibly” dipped beneath the large Dominion high-voltage power lines, then over a hill and out of sight.

“It disappeared from view, and then I heard a ‘puh-LUNK’ sound, and then immediately thereafter, there was a cloud of black smoke above it,” Clements said. By then he had called 911 from his cell phone, kept on the line by the  dispatcher while he ran in the direction of the smoke. “There were three explosions,” he said. “There was the initial explosion, there was a delay of maybe a minute, and then two in rapid succession after that.”

As Clements approached neighbor Richard Settle’s house – it was in Settle’s cow field that the plane hit the ground – he said a barefoot woman with noticeable burns on her hands and feet walked out of the woods toward him. The woman, Mary Crathern, said that she was with her husband, Brian, in the plane that had crashed after it had developed engine trouble; Brian Crathern appeared seconds later, and said that the two were on a return trip from vacation in the Caribbean. After he radioed home, Clements said his wife arrived with the car and drove the couple toward Jericho Road to meet emergency responders.

Eric Phillips of the Flint Hill Volunteer Fire Department was in the first ambulance to reach the scene, and dealt with both patients. Phillips said that while both were responsive, the female’s condition was more serious, having second or third degree burns on her hands, arms, feet and face. Mary Crathern was airlifted to UVA Medical Center.

Bob Clements

Among those who responded to the accident scene were an FAA investigator, members of the Rappahannock County Sheriff’s Office including Sheriff Connie Smith, volunteer fire and rescue squads from Chester Gap, Flint Hill, Amissville and Washington.

State Police spokesman Sgt. Les Tyler said Monday that Trooper B.R. Johnson – who also responded to the single-engine crash report Saturday – reported that the pilot said he developed engine trouble and was forced to attempt an emergency landing. FAA spokesperson Arlene Salac said their investigator from Dulles Airport classified the incident as an accident with two people aboard – one with serious injuries, burns. As an accident, the crash is now part of an National Transportation Safety Board investigation.

Art Candenquist of Amissville Fire and Rescue said that when he arrived, the crash victims were already at Jericho Road waiting for rescuers to arrive. “I went back to see if I could find the aircraft, and it was just beyond a pretty wide open-pasture,” Candenquist said. “When they came down they had just missed some trees. They went through an area where there was a gate, in a tree line, and took out the metal gate and the posts and such, and impacted the ground about 25 feet or so beyond the tree line.

“I’d say they were considerably lucky; the damage and the situation could have been far worse if they had hit the trees,” Candenquist added. “Like I said, there was a line of trees, and he flew the aircraft right through the little opening where the gate was, and it sheared off one of the wings when he went through it.”

Another responder on Saturday, Frank Huff of Flint Hill Volunteer Fire Department – who’s been involved with fire and rescue in Rappahannock since 1964 – said he recalled three other plane crashes in the county. The most recent was in the late 1970s, he said, when a military fighter plane conducting low-flying radar maneuvers crashed into the side of the mountain below Mary’s Rock on Skyline Drive. There were no survivors in that crash.