Air Show Plane Crashes into Oregon Home, Killing Pilot

July 18, 2006

Federal aviation officials launched an investigation Monday into the cause of this weekend’s deadly plane crash in Oregon, which killed a pilot who had just taken off from the Hillsboro Air Show when his single-engine jet nosedived into a quiet suburban neighborhood.

Kurt Anderson, a senior air safety investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board in Seattle, said Monday that the agency was “coordinating with the insurance agency for the recovery of the aircraft,” and that investigators “will be going to the location where the aircraft was recovered.”

Federal Aviation Administration officials are also expected to help with the investigation.

Neighbor Diana Halvorsen heard “an incredibly loud” noise and then her back yard burst into flames before she realized an airplane had crashed into the house next door.

“It was like a bad nightmare,” Halvorsen said. “The flames just shot through our yard.”

Halvorsen said her family escaped unharmed from the crash of a vintage British fighter jet into her residential neighborhood only with the help of “guardian angels.”

The pilot of the 1950s Hawker Hunter jet died and an empty home was destroyed but — miraculously, according to authorities and neighbors — nobody on the ground was injured, including Halvorsen, her husband and their two young daughters.

The owner of the destroyed home was in shock, said Connie King, a spokeswoman for the Hillsboro Fire Department, but wanted to publicly express her gratitude to friends and family who were helping her cope with the ordeal.

The jet had been on display but had not performed at the two-day Oregon International Airshow at Hillsboro Airport. It crashed shortly after takeoff Sunday afternoon on its return to California.

The owner and pilot of the plane was Robert Guilford, 73, an aviation attorney from Los Angeles, said Robin McCall, a spokeswoman for the Baum Hedlund law firm.

McCall said Guilford had been with the firm for more than a decade. She said Guilford graduated from Harvard Law School and had been flying since 1961. She said Guilford was a cheerful person and the members of the firm are in a state of disbelief.

“He was an amazing person,” she said. “It’s an incredible loss.”

The neighborhood is just southeast of the suburban airport ringed by several campuses and plants that Intel Corp. has built up into its largest domestic division.

The air show has been a popular fixture in the high-tech “Silicon Forest” that sprawls across the flat expanse of Hillsboro, a sleepy farm town transformed into one of the fastest growing cities in Oregon.

Neighbors in a wide area around the airport can hear and see all kinds of planes, from small single-engine stunt planes to military jets, performing at nearly treetop levels.

But organizers say it was the first crash in the 19-year history of the show.

“We’ve had a few emergencies over the years, but we’ve never had an accident,'” said Ed Kerbs, an air show organizer from 1991 to 2002 who lives near the crash site and saw the plane go down.

“As it came in, it pitched up its nose and it looked like he was trying to stay afloat,” Kerbs said. “I was talking to a buddy of mine and I said ‘Hey, he’s flying way too low; he’s not going to make it.’ And then there was a plume of smoke and a bang.”

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