Accident Piper PA-34 N56122, Wednesday 2 August 1978
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Date:Wednesday 2 August 1978
Type:Silhouette image of generic PA34 model; specific model in this crash may look slightly different    
Piper PA-34
Owner/operator:Richard Neel And Company
Registration: N56122
MSN: 34-7350292
Year of manufacture:1973
Fatalities:Fatalities: 3 / Occupants: 3
Other fatalities:0
Aircraft damage: Destroyed
Location:Chesterfield County Airport, Chesterfield, Virginia -   United States of America
Phase: Approach
Departure airport:Washington-Dulles International Airport, DC (IAD/KIAD)
Destination airport:Chesterfield County Airport, Chesterfield, Virginia (KFCI)
Investigating agency: NTSB
Confidence Rating: Accident investigation report completed and information captured
On 2 August 1978 a Piper PA-34 Seneca carrying Republican Senate candidate Richard D. Obenshain home from an election campaign event crashed while attempting a night-time landing at the Chesterfield County Airport (a general aviation airport near Richmond, Virginia), killing Obenshain and the other two people on board. According to a contemporary press report (see link #4 and #5):

"Pilot of Obenshain Plane Called 'Very Cautious'

One of the two pilots killed Wednesday night near Richmond, along with Republican Senate candidate Richard D. Obenshain, was giving his time and his plane to Obenshain's campaign when his Piper Seneca crashed and exploded in a stand of trees.

Richard F. Neel, 42, a certified public accountant who lived in Alexandria, was described yesterday by pilots who had flown with as a "very cautiuos, veru conservative pilot who would never do anything to jeopardize his life or anyone with him."

The Federal Aviation Administration yesterday identified the second pilot as Ronald Allen Edelen of Camp Springs in Prince George's County, a registered flight instructor. The FAA said it was not known which man was at the controls at the time of the crash.

Neel had flown Obenshain on several trips since the Republican nominating convention in June, according to Neel's wife.

The FAA said the plane, owned by Neel and a man named John Purdy, operated from Lease American Corp., which the agency said is based at National Airport.

Last summer, during his campaign, Gov. John Dalton flew in the same plane from Arlington to Roanoke, Va. Neel did not pilot the plane on those trips.

A private pilot with about 700 hours of flying time, Neel was a successful businessman whose accounting firm recently moved into the new Pinecrest Office Building in Alexandria, a building Neel co-owned.

Neel was a long-time supporter of Republican candidates in Virginia, according to friends, and lent his plane to his favorite candidates as a political contribution.

Most of the time, according to William J. Pagnella, a pilot who flew more than 20 times with Neel, the accountant would lend his plane and hire a pilot to fly it. But on occasion, as happened Wednesday night, Neel himself would fly.

Neel, who was not licensed to fly with instruments in bad weather, took along another pilot, a registered flight instructor from the Washington area whose identity was still being withheld yesterday pending notification of relatives. With the instructor aboard, Neel, who needed about 40 hours of instrument flight time for certification, was following Federal Aviation Administration guidelines.

The plane left Winchester after the instructor had filed an instrument flight regulations IFR flight plan. When it neared its destination, Neel asked the control tower at Chesterfield County Airport if he could dispense with an instrument landing because visibility was good, Virginia state police said yesterday.

The airport reported visibility around 11 p.m. of nearly 20 miles. Neel told airport when he was about 12 minutes from touchdown that he could see the landing field, police said.

At 11:10 p.m., the plane crashed into a wooded area about one-half mile northwest of the airport. It traveled 304 feet through trees, police said, and burst into flames when it stopped.

The FAA, which yesterday could not established a cause for the crash, said Neel made no calls of distress before the crash.

Trooper Donald C. Osborne, who arrived at the crash scene at 11:20 p.m., said all three passengers were in the burning plane and there was no chance of pulling any of them out. Osborne, a former undertaker, discounted the reports of one witness who said she saw a man in the plane wave his arm and groan.

Osborne said any movements from the charred bodies were involuntary muscular reactions."

Accident investigation:
Investigating agency: NTSB
Report number: IAD78FA088
Status: Investigation completed
Duration: 2 months
Download report: Final report


1. NTSB Identification: IAD78FA088 at
2. FAA:
4. Harden, Blaine (August 4, 1978). "Pilot of Obenshain Plane Called 'Very Cautious'". The Washington Post

Revision history:

25-Feb-2008 12:00 ASN archive Added
17-Nov-2016 19:19 Dr.John Smith Updated [Operator, Location, Phase, Nature, Departure airport, Destination airport, Source, Narrative]

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