The identity of the glider tow plane pilot killed in a crash on takeoff Saturday (Oct. 7) at Front Royal Airport (FRR) has been released by the Virginia State Police. That pilot was 76-year-old Reston resident Steven B. Zaboji.
Zaboji was piloting a Piper Pawnee towing a glider aloft at “approximately 1:35 p.m.” according to a release from Sgt. Les Tyler of the Culpeper office of VSP. According to that release “the Piper began experiencing problems and crashed onto private property in the 1700 block of Ridgeway Road near the airport. The impact of the crash caused the plane to catch fire … No one on the ground was injured in the crash.”
The crash remains under investigation. According to VSP, both the Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) and National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) responded to the scene the day after the accident, Sunday, October 8.
As we reported the day of the accident, the glider Zaboji was towing aloft was able to disconnect the tow line and land successfully without injury to its occupants. On Saturday, Airport Manager Reggie Cassagnol told Royal Examiner that emergency glider detachments are a constant part of the training regimen of the club based at the airport.
Returning from the scene mid-afternoon Saturday Cassagnol hypothesized on the possible role of turbulence on a clear but windy day. The crash site off the 1700 block of Ridgeway Road is probably less than a half mile from the west end of the FRR runway the tow plane and glider were departing from.
In the immediate aftermath of the crash Cassagnol theorized that at takeoff the tandem plane and glider encountered some turbulence that led to the glider rising above the tow plane and jerking the plane’s tail upward. In such a scenario the incident would have occurred before the plane had climbed high enough to successfully correct what had suddenly turned into a nose dive at low altitude and full takeoff throttle.
Contacted about whether the State Police investigation had eliminated turbulence as contributing factor, Sgt. Tyler said he believed it did not. He added that the FAA and NTSB investigations would likely make a final determination on precise circumstances and the chronology of events leading to the fatal crash.
Crucial in that investigation will be determining if the plane encountered difficulty before or after the glider disconnected; how far from the runway and at what altitude “the Piper began experiencing problems” as the VSP release describes.
The Skyline Soaring Club has been a valued and active tenant at FRR for a number of years. Airport Manager Cassagnol appeared shaken upon his return to the FRR terminal from the scene mid-afternoon Saturday.
Information from County Emergency Services Chief Richard Mabie indicated Warren County Fire & Rescue got the call for an airplane crash in the vicinity of FRR and Ridgeway Road at 1:30 p.m. Responding units included Engines 2, 1, Tankers 8 and 9, Medic 1, Chief 100.
Updates on the crash investigation will be released as they are received.