TAUNTON — A massive rumble followed by heavy flames shattered the early-morning calm at Taunton Municipal Airport Sunday as a single-engine plane crashed in a gully on takeoff, killing both occupants.
The victims were tentatively identified Sunday night by the Bristol district attorney’s office as John Schmouth, 69, of Brockton, the pilot, and Roland Deslauriers, 61, of Bridgewater.
“Although next-of-kin notifications have been made and investigators believe they have identified both victims, the confirmed identities of the two victims will not officially be known until the medical examiner’s office conducts autopsies,” Gregg Miliote, spokesman for the district attorney’s office, said in a prepared statement.
Authorities said dental records would be needed to positively identify them.
A man who identified himself as Deslauriers’s father said late Sunday that his son had a decades-long passion for airplanes.
“I’m having a rough time today,” the elder Deslauriers said during a brief phone interview. “He was a terrific pilot, but he wasn’t flying the plane.”
He declined to comment further.
Early Sunday morning, Carol Oliver, 69, heard the crash from her home about a half-mile away.
“I heard like a bang, almost like a tremor,” she said at the scene. “Then I heard all the fire and the police and the ambulances. Something major had to have happened.”
Taunton police received a call at 6:38 a.m. reporting the crash, Lieutenant Robert Casey said.
The plane was attempting to take off when it went down near Westcoat Drive, the road leading to the small municipal airport, authorities said.
No one on the ground was injured.
Keith Holloway, a spokesman for the National Transportation Safety Board, said the plane was an Aeronca 7AC, a type of small plane introduced in 1945 that has a single propeller and a wide, continuous wing over the fuselage.
Holloway said the plane that crashed was built in 1946 but had only recently been purchased by the owner.
He said investigators would inspect maintenance records for the aircraft, examine the wreckage for evidence of mechanical issues, and seek radar data that might show its trajectory.
James Madigan, a commissioner with the Taunton Municipal Airport Commission, said at the scene Sunday that he arrived at about 6:30 a.m. and found Taunton firefighters working to extinguish the flames.
The fire destroyed the aircraft.
Madigan said the plane had only two seats, one in front of the other.
“There isn’t much to the aircraft,” he said. “It’s a fabric-covered aircraft.”
For such planes, he said, there is no requirement to file a flight plan or sign in and out of the airport.
“It’s just like you get in your car and drive. You don’t have to tell anybody where you’re going,” he said.
Local and State Police as well as the Fire Department, the state medical examiner’s office, the Federal Aviation Administration, the Massachusetts Aeronautics Commission, and the state Department of Transportation are cooperating in the investigation, authorities said.
Those agencies will coordinate the investigation with the National Transportation Safety Board.
The airport was not shut down Sunday, and small planes continued to take off and land throughout the day.
Taunton Mayor Thomas Hoye Jr. spoke at the scene at 11 a.m. after viewing the gully where the plane crashed, describing it as “a tragic scene.”
“At this point it just looks like a horrible accident, just a terrible tragedy,” he said.
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