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Gaithersburg residents rally to change flight routes after plane crash | News

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Gaithersburg residents rally to change flight routes after plane crash

GAITHERSBURG, Md. (WUSA9) -- When she first moved to Gaithersburg with her husband and 2-year-old daughter, Jennifer Etzel admitted she enjoyed living near the Montgomery County Airpark.

"I think one of her [my daughter's] first words was airplane. And it's a huge source of enjoyment that became really a disappointment for our family," Etzel said. 

But that all changed last December, when a plane crashed into three homes on Drop Forge Lane in Gaithersburg, killed a mother and two children in one of the homes and three men on board the plane.

"That rattled us to the core - that everyday life in those homes was exactly what that mother was doing with her children," Etzel said.

Etzel's concerns were shared Wednesday when scores of residents who live around the airpark explained those concerns to the county. 

"I see the planes overhead all the time - close to my house, on top of my house," Denise Sheheen, who lives near the airpark, said.

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When the airport first opened in 1960, the surrounding area was different.

"[It was] all cow pastures and farms. Now we have schools, we have churches, we have synagogues, recreations centers, we have very populated areas," Terry O'Grady, another nearby resident said.

The area has changed since the crash, a neighbors say so too have the planes. But not their flight patterns.

"The jets are too large and they're getting bigger and bigger, much bigger, heavier, faster, louder," said Carrie Buttrey, a homeowner, at Wednesday night's meeting.

According to county numbers, in 2000, there were roughly 140,000 total operations at the airport. By 2012, total operations dropped down to just over 51,000.

Still, the Airpark Concerned Citizens Association has been pushing for changes - from flight patterns, to the direction of aircraft takeoff, to increasing altitude of planes - for six years.

"We're not recommending major changes," said Roy Bevington of the ACCA. "Nothing that will impact the actual operations there, it's not going to make it any more difficult."

Changes include the direction of aircraft takeoff and increasing altitude.

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"The suggestions we have made, nothing has been acted on," Bevington said.

Most pilots defend their practice and the airpark but say they are willing to work with concerned residents.

"Established procedures here are very good, they're established according to what the FAA says which is the letter of the law here, but I also understand the need to make sure that we're taking good care of our neighbors," Felix Ortiz, a local pilot, said.

From pilot training, to its role as a launching point for official search and recovery missions, to the economic impact -- nearly 300 are jobs associated with airport and the businesses that cling and cater to the airport -- the airpark plays an important role in the community. 

Residents insist they're not asking for anything drastic.

"That's never been our intention, to have the airpark close. the airpark is fine where it is. We just have to take other precautions to make sure other communities are safe," O'Grady said. 

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