- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 6, 2007

BEDFORD, Ind. (AP) — Federal and state investigators were trying to determine yesterday why a man took his 8-year-old daughter up in a small plane that crashed into his former mother-in-law’s home, killing the little girl and himself.

Eric Johnson, a student pilot who had soloed before, strapped daughter Emily into the passenger seat of a leased, single-engine Cessna on Monday morning and took off from Virgil I. Grissom Municipal Airport, authorities said.

They had been in the air for less than two hours when the plane crashed into the side of the one-story house, said Andrew Todd Fox of the National Transportation Safety Board. Mr. Fox said that investigators were looking at whether the plane was functioning properly and hoped to have a preliminary report within a week.

The airport has no controller on duty, so there was no tape available of any communication, Mr. Fox said.

He declined to say if Mr. Johnson, 47, said anything over the plane’s radio before the plane crashed into Vivian Pace’s home about 10:45 a.m. Mrs. Pace was home but uninjured.

State and Bedford police were treating the criminal investigation as a suicide and homicide, state police 1st Sgt. Dave Bursten said. He said they had yet to find any notes indicating Mr. Johnson’s intentions with the flight, but the fact that the house was his ex-wife’s mother’s home raised serious questions.

“All of those things together lead us in the direction that this was done intentionally,” Sgt. Bursten said yesterday.

The plane already had crashed but the occupants hadn’t been identified when Emily’s mother, Beth Johnson, arrived at the Bedford Police Department to file a missing-person report because her daughter hadn’t arrived at school that morning after spending the weekend with her father, Bedford Police Maj. Dennis Parsley said.

She gave officers no indication of any threats against Emily, Maj. Parsley said, and told police that her ex-husband, a property manager for the state Department of Natural Resources, had recently taken the girl to Cancun for a few days of vacation.

“[Emily] was to spend the weekend with dad, and dad was supposed to bring her to school Monday morning,” Maj. Parsley said.

Investigators were examining the wreckage of the plane crash at Mrs. Pace’s home in Bedford, about 20 miles south of Bloomington, and hadn’t identified the two bodies inside at the time.

“It is just gut-wrenching to think about what was happening to that child just prior to the crash,” Sgt. Bursten said.

Mrs. Pace said she was in the living room of her one-story home when the plane struck the side. Witnesses said the plane appeared to be trying to land when it veered sharply and went out of sight.

State police said they had no record of disputes between the Johnsons.

“I thought he would do something to get back at Beth,” Mrs. Pace said. “He was a very possessive person. He got what he wanted.”

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