The Middletown Press (Middletown, CT)
‘Everything was about flying’
Family says Danbury pilot killed in Farmington crash was a gifted mechanic, devoted dad
DANBURY — Mark Morrow could fix cars and motorcycles before he could drive.
With the money he earned over the years from that and his job at IBM, the Danbury man and his dad bought their first plane when he was in his 30s.
“It was his life’s dream to be a pilot,” said his son, Michael Morrow.
Mark Morrow, 57, was one of four people killed Thursday when the Cessna Citation 560X he and another pilot were flying out of Plainville crashed during takeoff in Farmington.
Co-pilot William O’Leary, 55, of Bristol, and the two passengers Courtney Haviland, 33, and her husband, William Shrauner, 32, of Boston, also were killed.
“He talked about flying every minute of his life,” said Dunja Morrow, his wife of more than 30 years, said Friday afternoon, crying as she remembered. “Everything was about flying.”
Mark Morrow was a
flight instructor for decades, teaching his daughter to fly and instructing his son a bit, too, Michael Morrow said.
“He was a very avid teacher and just loved to share his passion with flying for anybody and everybody he could,” Michael Morrow said.
He was a freelance pilot most recently, but worked for ConnAir Corp., a private jet charter company, before COVID-19, said Mark’s brother, Scott Morrow.
“He was really gifted, mechanically,” Scott Morrow said, his voice shaking as he struggled to hold back tears. “He was extremely gifted. He could fix anything. It didn’t matter what it was. He could take anything apart and put it back together.”
A one-time track athlete, Mark Morrow passed his “incredible speed” onto his kids, his brother said.
“He was such a gentle guy,” Scott Morrow said. “When I would try to fight him [as a kid], he would never take a swing at me. He would just wrestle me to the ground until I was exhausted.”
A ‘meticulous’ pilot
He was a “diligent,” “careful” and “meticulous” pilot and mechanic, his son said. He enjoyed working on cars or around the house, as well as reading about flying in his free time.
“Flying was his life,” son Michael Morrow said. “It was his love.”
He participated in professional development and was “up to par” with the latest rules and regulations from the Federal Aviation Administration, his wife said. Farmington police Lt. Tim McKenzie said Thursday the aircraft appeared to have suffered a “mechanical failure” during takeoff in the moments leading to the crash.
The plane was taking off from Robertson Airport in Plainville on Thursday morning, en route to Dare County Regional Airport in Manteo, N.C.
Before he left, Mark Morrow asked his wife if she was jealous.
“Jealous about what?” she recalled asking.
“That I’ll be swimming in the Outer Banks,” he replied.
The National Transportation Safety Board is leading the investigation.
The Cessna Citation 560X business jet crashed into a small field next to the Trumpf Inc. building, flipped upside down and hit the business, which caught on fire. The building was badly damaged, but all employees were accounted for, police said Thursday.
Scott Morrow is certain Mark was thinking of public safety as the plane went down.
“I bet his thought was do not touch that building,” said Scott Morrow, adding his brother likely focused on protecting the others on board. “He put everybody before himself.”
Mark Morrow, who was his son’s Michael’s Boy Scout leader, was an “extremely loving” husband and father, Michael Morrow said. Mark Morrow had two children and five siblings and took care of his mother, who lives nearby.
“He was the best guy I ever could have hoped for,” his wife said. “He was such a great, great person.”
He lived most of his life in Danbury, but lived in Spain and met his wife in Germany. They married in November 1989 on his parents’ property on King Street.
Mark Morrow is the son of the late Don Morrow, a Danbury voiceover actor for movies and commercials who announced the news with famed broadcasters like Walter Cronkite and Lowell Thomas.
Mark Morrow taught his dad to fly, and the two bought their first plane together, Scott Morrow said.
“That way my dad could fly a lot more and my brother could teach him,” Scott Morrow said.
He described his older brother as a “conscientious” person.
“He was just a good, kind person and gave more than he took,” he said.
For William O’Leary, the co-pilot, the runway at Robertson Airport was a lifelong hub. As a child, O’Leary spent much of his time around his father, William “Bill” O’Leary, and the family’s Interstate Aviation business which operated out of the airport, according to people who knew him. The younger O’Leary went by Will.
He later learned to fly and when his father sold the business several years ago, Will O’Leary continued to fly charter planes as a “line pilot” from the airport.
“He was very good at flying the jets in and out of Robertson,” Plainville Town Manager Robert E. Lee said in an email Friday. “His sisters worked in the office as well (still do). They were a family where Robertson Airport was a second home.”
A woman who answered the phone at Interstate Aviation on Friday afternoon declined to say whether O’Leary was flying for the company on Thursday, referring any additional questions to the FAA.
Robert Zirpolo, a former member of the town’s aviation commission as well as a former pilot for Interstate Aviation, said O’Leary was an “accomplished pilot” who followed his father’s footsteps and learned to fly as a teenager. According to FAA records, Will O’Leary was licensed as a flight instructor in addition to being a transport pilot.
O’Leary was a “mildmannered guy,” who was well liked by the community of pilots around Plainville, Zirpolo said. “He wasn’t a guy who made a lot of noise.”
“Very big loss for Robertson Airport and Interstate, to say nothing of the loss for his family,” Lee added.