Investigators release details on deadly plane crash

Former Newburyport Mayor Al Lavendar was killed when his plane crashed into a multifamily home in Methuen in February 2016.

METHUEN — The plane of former Newburyport Mayor Al Lavender had fuel tank issues in the months before the single-engine plane crashed into an apartment building, killing Lavender, according to new information from the National Transportation Safety Board.

Investigators have released more information about the crash that happened Feb. 28, 2017, but did not say exactly what caused it.

Lavender, 73, was alone in his Sonex aircraft when it plummeted into the roof of building No. 7 at the Prides Crossing development at 1 Riverview Boulevard. The building houses 12 condominiums.

The last time Lavender flew before the crash was Oct. 8, 2016, he wrote in an email three days before his death. The correspondence was obtained by NTSB investigators.

“Since then, I have had the fuel tank out twice and finally got it fixed,” Lavender wrote in the email. “The problem turned out to be cross-threading of the fitting in the main fuel outlet from the tank. Now there is no indication of a leak on the white paper towel that I leave on the floor of the plane under the tank.”

Lavender went on to explain that on the day recounted in the email — Feb. 25, 2017 — he started the plane’s engine for the first time in nearly five months.

“To my amazement it started right up and ran perfectly,” he wrote.

He did not fly the plane that day because of the wind, he wrote, opting to wait a couple of days before taking flight.

He planned to “do a bunch of touch-and-goes to make sure everything is working correctly,” his email said.

State police said after the crash that the plane was approaching Lawrence Municipal Airport when it crashed.

The condominium building is immediately across the Merrimack River from the airport.

The building that was hit is in a neighborhood nestled between the river and Interstate 495.

NTSB investigators explained in a timeline of events that Lavender was cleared to land, but he never acknowledged that clearance. Air Traffic Control called 911 minutes later.

“So, whatever happened, happened pretty quickly after takeoff,” investigators said in their report.

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