NEW BEDFORD, MASSACHUSETTS — A small plane crashed into a Massachusetts cemetery Monday afternoon, killing the pilot.
The crash occurred some time around 3:30 p.m. The plane took off from New Bedford Regional Airport, according to Mayor Jon Mitchell, who held a press conference at Rural Cemetery late Monday afternoon.
The plane, a 1977 Cessna 150M, was registered to Paul E. Vidal of Westport. Authorities have not yet identified the pilot.
Massachusetts State Troopers from the State Police Detective Unit for Bristol County and the State Police Crime Scene Services Section responded to assist local police and firefighters at the scene.
The National Transportation Safety Board is also investigating.
Witness Jose Costa knew a plane was in trouble Monday afternoon when he heard the engine’s high-pitched sound and later saw a badly damaged aircraft.
The 66-year-old retired DPI worker was cleaning his car on Grinnell Street, a short distance away from the crash site, and drove to the Dartmouth Street entrance.
“I heard a really high RPM of an airplane and I looked towards the cemetery and saw the plane circling in an upward direction,” Costa said.
“Then all of a sudden the plane started coming down, like wobbling, and then I heard a big bang,” he said.
He didn’t see the plane crash, but saw the wreckage.
The sounds he heard were about 3:40 p.m.
“I didn’t hear sounds anymore and I figured the plane crashed,” he said
Erik Winters said the plane flew about 60 feet above the houses along Dartmouth Street before veering back into the cemetery and crashing.
“He got to the center of the cemetery and crashed,′ he said. “He crashed. He crashed hard,” he said.
It appeared to Winters that pilot was either doing maneuvers or the plane was having a mechanical problem, he said.
“It looked like he made a deliberate effort to get over the cemetery,” Winters said.
Morgan Bernardo, who lives off Dartmouth Street, said she saw the downward spiral and then heard the crash.
“I saw the plane go nose down,” she said. “Completely nose down. Within seconds you heard the bang.”
“It was something out of a movie,” she said.
Standard-Times photographer Peter Pereira, on a day off from work and raking leaves in his West End backyard, witnessed what seemed to have been a plane in trouble.
“I heard it going down,” he said. “I was in my backyard.
“I heard a sound that sounded like an acrobatic plane. I looked up and I saw a plane banking. From Rockdale Avenue toward the cemetery.
“The sound leveled off. Like he had made his move.”
Pereira said he thought the pilot may have been doing tricks and that everything was alright. “So I thought that was it.
“I went back to raking my leaves and then I heard the engine again. And I thought that’s not right.”
“He pushed the engine really hard to bank. I don’t know if he was trying to bank.
“He pushed really hard and he stabilized again. And then something happened. I didn’t hear anything. I knew something had gone really wrong.”
Pereira said he did not witness the plane crash, but after he arrived at the scene of the crash at the 100-acre cemetery, one of the oldest in New Bedford, he saw there was little left of the aircraft. The plane was in three pieces, he said, with the tail, the wings and a section of metal caught up in a tree.
“I can almost guarantee that the pilot was trying to land in that cemetery,” Pereira said.