Feds say fatal crash pilot was hiding eye trouble

FREMONT Officials investigating the June 8, 2008 plane crash in Fremont that killed six people say 86-year-old pilot
Sarah Weber
May 24, 2010

FREMONT

Officials investigating the June 8, 2008 plane crash in Fremont that killed six people say 86-year-old pilot Gene Damschroder shouldn't have been flying.

In a report released this week, the National Transportation Safety Board said Damschroder's medical records indicate he had age-related macular degeneration in both eyes. With corrective lenses, his distance vision was recorded as 20/100 in each eye during an examination April 8, 2008.

That was just months before the fatal plane crash.

Further, the report said Damschroder's medical records indicate he was told not to drive a car on two occasions -- once in October 2007 and again in January 2008. He was also diagnosed with hyperglycemia in August 2006, as well as prostate cancer.

Damschroder was involved in four car crashes from 1998 to 2008, the most recent on May 30, 2008.

He was killed when his Cessna Super Skywagon crashed just before 1 p.m. in a grassy field south of Fremont.

The five others who died in the crash included Bill Ansted, 62, the husband of Sandusky County Common Pleas Court Judge Barbara Ansted; the judge's daughter, Allison Ansted, 23, of Lindsey, Ohio; Allison's fianc, Matt Clearman, 25, of Maumee, Ohio; Danielle Gerwin, 31; and Gerwin's 4-year-old daughter, Emily.

Authorities still have not released information on the probable cause of the crash.

According to the NTSB report, Damschroder failed to reveal any of his medical conditions or treatments when applying for an airman medical certificate issued on May 4, 2007. He also denied having eye or vision trouble and failed to reveal visits he'd made to doctors.

Curiously, in an examination performed by an aviation medical examiner, Damschroder's uncorrected distance vision was 20/20 in each eye.

The NTSB report said the same aviation medical examiner signed off on Damschroder's applications since 1998. The Federal Aviation Administration decertified that medical examiner in January 2009 for improperly issuing medical certificates.

The flight that claimed the life of Damschroder and five others was part of an annual breakfast hosted by the Lions Club at Fremont Progress Airport. The local Lions Club district president told investigators the rides were not part of the Lions Club activity and the club didn't receive money for it.

The club president also said the event's advertisements were ordered and approved by Damschroder. Damschroder was a Lions Club member.

The Lions Club was named in a lawsuit filed by Charles Gerwin, whose wife and daughter died in the crash. Filed in Lucas County Common Pleas Court, the suit also names David Damschroder, executor of Gene Damschroder's estate; Damschroder Sales Co.; the International Association of Lions Clubs; the Fremont Noon Lions Club; and six Fremont Lions Club members.

Drawing on witness accounts, the NTSB report indicated Damschroder first used a Cessna Skyhawk for rides, but switched to the Cessna Super Skywagon because the radio wasn't working in the first plane. He gave eight to 10 different rides before the crash, each of those flights lasting 10 to 15 minutes.

Witness told investigators the plane's engine started properly on each flight until before the fatal flight, when it took three tries to start the engine. Records indicate the plane had 50 gallons of fuel just hours before the crash.

The FAA, meanwhile, has said Damschroder did not apply for or receive authorization to conduct sightseeing or commercial air tours.

Witnesses who saw the crash said the Cessna Super Skywagon was flying at a low altitude when it banked, descended and crashed into a field.

"One witness said the plane was flying very slowly, almost at the edge of a stall," the NTSB report said. (In flying, a stall occurs when the plane is not moving fast enough or at the proper angle for the wings to produce lift.) "This witness further stated that he heard the engine 'throttle up' and the airplane appeared to stall with the left wing 'dipping.' The airplane then descended below the tree line."