A well-known Cuttyhunk resident died Wednesday when the small plane he was flying crashed on takeoff from his own private air strip on the remote island.
Allen P. Spaulding Jr., 70, was the sole occupant of the 1965 fixed-wing Maule Bee Dee M-4-210 that crashed Wednesday morning on Cuttyhunk, state police said. The pilot was determined to be dead at the scene.
Mr. Spaulding, who had homes in Wilmington, Del., Cutttyhunk and Buffalo, N.Y., was a member of a longtime prominent Cuttyhunk family that owns a large portion of the island.
“It’s a shock to everybody,” said Asa Lombard, a longtime Cuttyhunker and former harbor master who worked for Mr. Spaulding on his home.“It’s too bad that it happened. Nobody knows yet why it happened. He was an experienced pilot. It’s not like he didn’t know what he was doing.”
The accident time was estimated at 9:15 a.m. Wednesday, Paul Knudson, a spokesman for the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said Thursday. The accident was called in by a fisherman, he said, who reported to state troopers that he saw the aircraft crash shortly after takeoff on the western part of Cuttyhunk.
Mr. Knudson said it is unknown at this point where the pilot was headed, and a flight plan had not been filed.
The plane was in the trees on the western side of the island as of yesterday afternoon, he said, and it will likely be moved to another location where it will be examined by investigators. A preliminary report on the accident is expected within about two weeks, he said, but that will not have the estimated cause of the accident. That information can take around 12 months, he said.
Mr. Spaulding had built his own small airstrip on his property on Cuttyhunk.
The accident spurred a broad emergency response effort to Cuttyhunk. Island fire personnel, Tri-Town EMS, the Coast Guard and state police all responded. The Coast Guard responded from both Menemsha and Woods Hole, senior chief petty officer Ronny German said, after a good samaritan who witnessed the plane crash called it in. A 25-foot response boat and a 47-foot motor life boat left from Menemsha with Coast Guard, state police and fire personnel,
and a 45-foot response vessel launched from Woods Hole with state police and another local fire department on board, he said. The Cuttyhunk fire department was also on the scene, Senior Chief German said, and he said the Dukes County dispatch was also involved.
The Coast Guard also dispatched marine safety personnel to verify if there was any pollution in the water, he said, and an MH60T helicopter.
It took about 20 to 25 minutes until a boat was on the scene, he said, but the operation was a major “fire department type of rescue attempt,” with extrication tools and medical experts on hand.
“I can’t tell you enough how impressed I was with the Coast Guard,” Tri-Town EMS chief Paul (Zeke) Wilkins said Thursday, noting that without them the town would have needed to call private operators to get to Cuttyhunk.
“Right off the bat the odds were sort of stacked against us,” he said, but the Coast Guard responded “within minutes” and took over equipment needed, including Jaws of Life from the fire department. Cuttyhunk has limited resources, he said, but “for what they had they did a good job.”
“It was a very tough situation,” Mr. Wilkins said. “They did the very best they could, very commendable.”
Mr. Wilkins said EMS has responded to Cuttyhunk a number of times for traumas including heart attacks and boat accidents.
“It was in essence a typical accident scene,” said Ben Retmier, the deputy chief of Tri-Town EMS.
“Everyone did a fantastic job of trying to help someone in a remote and difficult access place.”
He said the plane came to rest up against a tree, and paramedics were on hand. Once it was determined that the pilot had died, he said they assisted fire personnel. Cuttyhunk lies at the tip of the Elizabeth Islands chain west of the Vineyard. About 75 people live there year-round. The island is seven miles from the Vineyard and 14 miles from New Bedford. It is about 500 acres in size. It is the southernmost island — and the only island not privately owned — in the Elizabeth Islands chain. Together the Elizabeth Islands form Gosnold, the seventh town in Dukes County.
Mr. Spaudling was a member of the Wood family and descended from William Madison Wood, who was born on Pease’s Point Way in Edgartown, according to Gazette archives. Mr. Wood later became the president of American Woolen, a textile company, and owned and operated 60 mills in eight states. Mr. Wood began purchasing land on Cuttyhunk in 1905, buying two large parcels of land and building a summer residence. He financed the town sewer system, and the Wood family was widely seen as a steward of the land.
Cuttyhunk residents said Mr. Spaulding carried on that tradition.
“He’s a really nice guy,” said Mr. Lombard.
Gazette archives also recount the period when in the 1970s when Mr. Spaulding built a windmill on Cuttyhunk, as the owner of the Wind Turbine Generator Energy Systems Inc., of Angola, N.Y. A 1976 story reported that the windmill was expected to be the nation’s largest operating wind-powered generator at the time. According to the story, Mr. Spaulding left a career as an artist to become president of WTG Energy Systems Inc. and a windmill salesman. He had the windmill built to supply cheaper energy for the Island, but later stories noted that the turbine did not prove reliable and the island stuck with its diesel generator.
Will Monast, a former longtime resident of Cuttyhunk who now lives in West Tisbury and writes a column for the Gazette, said Mr. Spaulding was well liked by the year-round islanders.
“I can tell you he loved the island so much that when he built his house he built it in a place that cannot be seen from the water. That’s the way he was,” said Mr. Monast. “He was a man of few words — he liked a steak and a beer. He had a dry sense of humor.”
He said Mr. Spaulding’s family owns a large part of Cuttyhunk, he estimated about three quarters of the island.
“He built the air strip on his property and had been working on his house for about the past five years,” Mr. Monast said. “He also stayed out of politics, supported the locals and firmly believed the locals should control the Island.”
Mr. Monast said he spoke to a few people on Cuttyhunk Wednesday after the plane crash.
“They were in shock,” he said. “They really liked him. Without getting involved he just supported the local people. He only hired local people. It’s going to be a huge loss.”
He concluded: “I was not personal friend. But I respected where he stood on things, how he handled himself on the island. I thought it was exemplary.”