The pilot killed in a crash near Robertson Airport in Plainville was known to his friends and neighbors as an airplane enthusiast and a “really nice neighbor.”
Police said 67-year-old Donald Eckberg, of Burlington, was the only person on the twin-engine plane that crashed on Granger Lane at 10:24 a.m., near Robertson Airport. Eckberg was thrown from the aircraft and died of his injuries, according to Plainville police.
Those who knew Eckberg say flying was his passion and that he built the plane he was in, a Rutan Defiant.
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Richard Marr is the co-owner of the plane and Eckberg’s best friend. He said his friend’s death hasn’t completely registered yet. The pair has been flying together since the early 1980s and built the aircraft together, an endeavor that took 11 years.
Marr said Eckberg’s pilot license was current and that he was cautious. The pair has been flying the plane for about 15 years.
In a 2017 article Eckberg wrote about the plane in EAA SportAviation, he called the Defiant a “remarkable aircraft” and wrote “I consider it as safe to travel in as the family sedan.”
Eckberg retired from his job at Marsh two years ago, Marr said.
Melanie Wilhelm, Eckberg’s neighbor, said his death was a loss to the neighborhood and community.
“A really nice neighbor the type of guy who would come out and help you when you needed help out in the yard,” she said.
Wilhelm said she knew he loved airplanes and watched him build his own in his garage.
“At the very end the kids were very excited because they took it out of the garage put the wings on and a flatbed truck came and took his airplane to the airport,” she recalled.
The National Transportation Safety Board and Federal Aviation Administration are investigating the cause of the deadly crash.