'There were huge flames': Family of 4 among 10 victims of Texas plane crash

ADDISON, Texas — Four members of a Texas family with ties to a major ranching operation and other business interests were among the 10 people who died Sunday when a private plane crashed into an airport hangar shortly after takeoff.

'There were huge flames': Family of 4 among 10 victims of Texas plane crash

Brian and Ornella Ellard, and Ornella Ellard’s teenage children, Alice and Dylan Maritato, were killed when the plane, which appears to have been owned by Ellard’s family, crashed at a small airport in Addison, just north of Dallas.

Two crew members and four other passengers also were killed. The passengers included Stephen Thelen, managing director of a Dallas commercial real estate company, and his wife, Gina, according to a statement from Thelen’s firm.

On Monday evening, the Dallas County medical examiner’s office said it had identified one of the pilots as Matthew Palmer, 28.

The names of the remaining three victims — one pilot and two passengers — had not been released by late Monday.

More than a dozen inspectors from the National Transportation Safety Board were investigating the crash Monday. At a late-afternoon briefing, officials from the safety board said investigators had recovered the plane’s cockpit voice recorder and were hoping it could provide details of what transpired in the moments before the plane went down.

Investigators hope to have preliminary findings in about two weeks, but full results of the inquiry aren’t expected for about 18 months, according to Bruce Landsberg, the board’s vice chairman.

A veteran pilot who was at the airport Sunday morning said he could tell from the sound of the engines that the plane was in trouble as it tried to take off just after 9 a.m.

“It clearly wasn’t making the type of power it needed to,” said the pilot, David Snell, 49, who lives in Frisco, Texas, and has been flying for more than three decades. “In 33 years, I never saw anything so tragic.”

He recalled seeing billowing flames and dark smoke after the crash.

The plane was bound for St. Petersburg, Florida, from Addison, a 4.4-square-mile community that is heavily dependent on its small municipal airport, which caters to business travelers.

The crash occurred four days before the airport’s annual “Addison Kaboom Town!” air and fireworks show, which is scheduled for Wednesday. Several publications have rated the event one of the best fireworks shows in the country.

The town’s police and fire departments are both adjacent to the airport, so officers and firefighters were at the crash site almost immediately. “It was right out their back door, so the response was unbelievably quick,” said Mary Rosenbleeth, the town’s spokeswoman.

Brian Ellard, 52, was a part-owner of an Italian restaurant in Dallas, and a son of Jo McPhail Ellard, the owner of EE Ranches, which has locations in Texas and Mississippi. Last year, Jo Ellard sold her family-owned insurance company for $405 million, according to The Dallas Morning News.

The plane that crashed Sunday, a Beechcraft King Air 350, was purchased this year by EE Operations, according to Federal Aviation Administration records. That company shares a registered agent with Jo Ellard’s ranches.

Brian Ellard’s restaurant, Mille Lire, posted a message on its Facebook page Monday saying it was “incredibly saddened by the tragic loss” of Ellard and his family. His wife was an architect and interior designer who was born and raised in Italy, according to her company website; her children were students at Catholic schools in the Dallas area.

“Dylan and Alice were loved by all their classmates and teachers,” Shana Druffner, the principal of All Saints Catholic, wrote in a message to parents of students at the school, where Dylan would have started eighth grade in the fall. His sister, Alice, would have been a sophomore at John Paul II High School after the summer. “All will be greatly missed,” Druffner wrote.

A community Mass is planned for Wednesday morning at All Saints Catholic Church, the school said. “Please especially keep Michele Maritato, Dylan and Alice’s father, in your prayers during this most difficult time,” Druffner wrote.

Clay Jenkins, the Dallas County judge and director of homeland security and emergency management, said Monday that the county medical examiner was still seeking to confirm the identities of the 10 victims, and that families had been asked to provide medical and dental records and to report any scars, tattoos or jewelry that could help identify their loved ones.

The hangar that the plane struck, which is privately owned, had a jet and a helicopter inside at the time, officials said. Both aircraft were damaged.

“The plane banked hard to the left, went into the hangar, and then within minutes — two to three minutes — there were huge flames,” Jenkins said. “The fire department is literally the closest building to that hangar, so they were able to quickly get there, but there was obviously nothing that could be done to save people.”

He called Addison a “unique place,” and noted that the town had been preparing for its biggest celebration of the year.

Dan Reed, another spokesman for the town of Addison, said the Kaboom Town! celebration would go on as scheduled, but it would include a recognition of the victims of the crash and of the police and firefighters who responded.

Reed said the town’s population of 13,000 residents swells to about 60,000 each workday because of the many large companies that have headquarters or regional offices there.

“Addison is a small town, but its economic presence is way outsized,” Reed said. “You could say the same for Addison Airport.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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