- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 23, 2006

STAFFORD, Va. — A single-engine plane crashed Wednesday night at the Stafford Regional Airport, killing four well-known community leaders and becoming the second fatal small-plane crash in the region within 15 hours.

Federal Aviation Administration officials said the plane was flying from Winston-Salem, N.C., to Fredericksburg when it crashed at about 11:40 p.m. in a wooded area about 500 yards south of the airport.

The likely reason was heavy fog, but no official cause has been determined.

“It may have been the weather,” FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown said. “We don’t know.”

Investigators think weather also was a factor in a fatal crash Wednesday morning at the Freeway Airport in Bowie. That accident occurred shortly before 10 a.m. when a single-engine Cessna was making a second landing attempt in a snowstorm, killing two persons and seriously injuring one.

Officials said the plane also was flying through low clouds that created poor visibility — between zero and 500 feet. The FAA and the National Transportation and Safety Board are investigating the accident.

Investigators think the pilot in the Stafford crash aborted a failed landing attempt and veered into the woods where searchers discovered the wreckage yesterday just after 9 a.m., said Sgt. F.L. Tyler of the state police.

“It appears they came in on an initial approach and were attempting to abort the landing when the crash occurred,” he said.

The plane was headed to Shannon Airport in Fredericksburg but was diverted to land about 12 miles farther north to Stafford because of poor weather conditions.

Sgt. Tyler said the Stafford airport has more navigational beacons than the Shannon Airport, which would enable an easier landing. He did not know whether the pilot asked to be diverted or had been directed to land at Stafford.

“All I know is that it was a change of approach,” he said.

Stafford Airport manager Ed Wallis said visibility was poor at about the time of the crash, but the airport emits a radio signal that helps pilots land in inclement weather.

“As far as I know, we had 21/2 miles of visibility,” Mr. Wallis said. “On a clear day, you have seven miles.”

The four men were returning from the Wake Forest versus Clemson basketball game in Winston-Salem. They have been identified as pilot Richard Lee Potter, 49; and passengers Albert “Buck” Jacoby, 56; Graham Green III, 57; and Michael Pappas, 47, all from the Fredericksburg area.

The four-seat Columbia 400 plane is registered to Homeowner Title LLC of Fredericksburg. A woman who answered the phone at the company yesterday declined to comment.

An American flag outside the airport flew at half-staff yesterday to honor the victims.

“All four individuals will be sorely missed,” said William Young, chairman of the Fredericksburg Regional Chamber of Commerce, who knew Mr. Potter and Mr. Green, a successful real estate broker with Green & Associates Realty.

Mr. Young said Mr. Potter was a careful and experienced pilot who often flew his family back and forth on vacations to Florida.

“This was not their first trip,” he said. “He was an accomplished pilot and very meticulous to detail.”

Mr. Potter was a Wake Forest alumnus and loyal Demon Deacon basketball fan. He started Potter Homes in 1988, and in January received the chamber’s Entrepreneur of the Year award. Mr. Potter worked with Habitat for Humanity and established the Lee Potter Charitable Foundation in 2001 to fund college scholarships, churches, the Red Cross and other organizations.

Mr. Jacoby was a lawyer, and Mr. Pappas owned Atlas Power Wash in Fredericksburg.

Real Estate agent Ruby Hawkins worked with Mr. Green since 1989 and said he was the president of the local Rotary Club and a member of the local Lion’s Club. She said Mr. Green also played accordion in a family band, the Graham Green Village Band, which performed at civic functions and nursing homes.

“He was top of the line, all of the way down” she said. “He was just very congenial and caring, a perfect gentleman.”

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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