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Published: Tuesday, 6/10/2008

Ill-fated flight

TRAGEDY beyond almost all contemplation struck northwest Ohio Sunday afternoon with the crash of a single-engine Cessna near the Fremont Airport, killing all six people aboard

Perhaps most painful was the loss of little Emily Gerwin, 4, a Gibsonburg girl taking her first airplane flight with her mother, Danielle, 31; but all of the victims were local people, imbued with the salt-of-the-earth goodness that characterizes northwest Ohio.

The accident occurred while a crowd of hundreds of people attended a pancake breakfast at the airport to benefit the local Lions Club. As he often had done before at such events, airport owner Gene Damschroder was giving airplane rides to exhilarated breakfast attendees. The whole scene might have been a Norman Rockwell painting: the country airport; the fly-in (in which pilots from other airports fly their airplanes to the event); the Lions Club gathering, and (without the big-airport hassle of Transportation Security Administration screenings) the thrill of an airplane ride.

We are at a loss to explain why such tragedy would strike such good people. Mr. Damschroder was a seemingly robust 86 and one of the most experienced aviators in Ohio. He knew every aspect of piloting and aircraft operation and maintenance. He would not have embarked on the ill-fated flight unless he believed the aircraft was in good working order and conditions were safe.

Unlike many a horrific automobile accident, a plane crash such as this will be exhaustively investigated by the National Transportation Safety Board. Every aspect of the airplane's condition and operation will be examined, the engine will be torn down and metal tests conducted, the fuel will be examined, and all other relevant factors (such as heat, humidity, weight of passengers) will be considered. In six months to a year, the NTSB will issue a report stating, if the evidence is conclusive, a probable cause of the accident. Other aviators will benefit from the knowledge.

Mr. Damschroder leaves at least two professional pilots among his survivors: his son Rex, an accomplished pilot in his own right and veteran of many years of flying, including numerous trans-Atlantic solos in single-engine aircraft; and his grandson, Alex, an airline pilot.

In addition to his aviation career, Mr. Damschroder was forthright in advancing his sometimes controversial political views during a 10-year stint as a state lawmaker representing the Sandusky and Seneca counties area.

Just as the "Flying Wallendas" continued to entertain thousands after the death of the family patriarch, Karl, in a fall from the high wire, we believe that the name Damschroder will continue to be synonymous with aviation in northwest Ohio.

- J.R.B.



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