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Rutland Herald, January 26,1945
Submitted by Mickey Kelly and Fred Remington

Merritt Thomas, 18, Crashes Training Plane on Pico Ski Slope While Flying Low

Flying low over the "B" slope of the Pico Ski development in what investigating officers describe as a "desire to have some fun, where people could see him." Merritt Thomas, 18, of Rutland town, a student pilot, narrowly escaped death or serious injury Saturday afternoon when the light plane he was operating from Rutland airport crashed in the soft snow of the mountainside.

Not only was Thomas fortunate in escaping injury, but it was considered extremely lucky that there were no skiers in the area where the plane came down. The plane is owned by the Rutland Airport Inc, fixed base operators at the city airfield. Skiers said the plane passed over their heads at the height of from 40 to 50 feet just before the crash.

State Aeronautics Inspector Edward Knapp of Montpelier, who is directing the investigation of the crash, stated yesterday that Thomas was flying in "open and deliberate violation of all altitude regulations."

According to the inspector’s report, the crash occurred at 2:30 o’clock, 45 minutes after Thomas had left Rutland airport where he had been taking instruction. It was understood that the youth was taking up the plane to practice landings. The report states that Thomas only had an hour and 45 minutes of solo time and that he was not suppose to leave the practice area in the vicinity of the airport.

Inspector Knapp said: “Thomas flew low over the Pico ski area twice prior to the crash. He approached the slope from the west, passing over the ski house at low attitude, attempting to climb following the line of the ski run and up the mountain, trying to climb the mountain at a low attitude and stalled at 15 to 20 feet above the slope, failing that distance into the soft snow. He said that he sustained no personal injury. The landing gear and wing tips of the plane were damaged.”

More than 100 skiers watched the antics of the student pilot with bated breath as he swooped down over the ski house and tower of the alpine lift at low altitude.

One of the skiers close by was John Hinsman of Belmont avenue, who was resting on a rock about 100 feet from were the plane came down on skis on the snow.

George Peck, 3rd of Lincoln Avenue, a member of the Otter Ski patrol and a flyer himself was about 150 feet from where the plane landed. Peck said he knew when he saw the plane come over the terminal hut at low flying speed that the pilot would not be able to clear the slope.

Thomas climbed out of the plane uninjured and walked down the mountain to a telephone.

The damaged plane mounted on skis, with the aid of a rope attacked to the tail, was hauled down the mountain by men from the Rutland airport, assisted by 20 members of the Otter Ski patrol yesterday. At the foot of the mountain the craft was dismantled and transported to the Rutland airport. Damage was estimated at from $600 to $700.

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