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Pilot dead in Leominster plane crash

Craft hit building just after takeoff

LEOMINSTER -- A pilot was killed yesterday when a home-built, single-engine ultralight plane crashed into a shop shortly after it took off from Fitchburg Municipal Airport.

The plane crashed into R & S Machine Inc., several hundred feet from the airport, and burst into flames around 3:45 p.m., tearing off a massive chunk of the shop's storefront and roof, officials said.

"I was only about 10 or 15 feet away," said Nathan Sanborn, 64, the shop's owner, who built it in 1958. ''That is why my knees are still shaking."

Sanborn, who said he was the only person in the shop at the time, said he heard the ''screaming of the engine" just before the crash.

Officials did not identify the man who died in the crash last night.

A spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration said the experimental aircraft was registered to Andrew San Clemente of Shrewsbury. His mother said last night that the man who died was not her son, but a test pilot whose name she didn't know.

According to FAA records, San Clemente obtained a private pilot license for a single-engine plane on Aug. 14 and a temporary certificate for the aircraft that took effect a week ago and expires Nov. 19.

It was the fifth fatal plane crash in Leominster since 1999. Most recently, in June, James P. Normandin, 47, a Fitchburg real estate developer, and his 25-year-old daughter, Kelly, were killed in a fiery crash.

''This has been and will continue to be a concern of ours," said Mayor Dean Mazzarella of Leominster, who went to the scene of the crash yesterday. ''We still would like to have an independent group come in and take a look to see if this is an abnormal situation or if this typical for an airport of this size."

Jackie Davis, 51, was in her home less than 100 feet away when the crash happened. She heads up a neighborhood watch group that called an emergency meeting last night to address the latest plane crash.

''The other crashes were not always that much of a concern because they were on the other side [of the airport]," Davis said. ''But this is in our backyard. We need to help take care of our neighborhood even though this is out of our hands."

Mazzarella said the city will determine what to do once a full report on yesterday's crash is available. ''We're very concerned, but we do not have all of the information yet," he said. ''We don't want to overreact."

Globe correspondent Vanessa Parks contributed to this report.

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