CAPE ELIZABETH — On Saturday evening members of the Limington chapter of the Experimental Aircraft Association were trying to absorb the news that one of their members had died that day when his antique plane crashed in the woods near the Limington-Harmon Airport.

More than 12 hours later, they were serving up a pancake breakfast to the hundreds of people who showed up for the chapter’s annual fly-in at Spurwink Farm, part of the 2,100-acre Ram Island Farm owned by the Sprague family.

Meanwhile, federal investigators arrived in Limington to begin their probe into the fatal crash.

The pancake line passed by a small easel displaying three photos of a smiling man and a red single-engine 1942 Culver Cadet. The display was one of a few outward signs that chapter members were grieving for Clarke Tate, 52, of Gray. Chapter members declined to comment on Tate’s death as they fed the crowd of aviation enthusiasts who turned out for one of the more popular fly-ins in the region.

Tate had planned to attend the fly-in and pancake breakfast, a chapter fundraiser, and spent Saturday helping to get ready for the event.

Many of those present on the sprawling grounds at the mouth of the Spurwink River were hearing about Tate’s death for the first time at the fly-in Sunday morning.

“When I came here this morning, I learned about it,” said Jason Wise, of Kennebunk, a volunteer with the Civil Air Patrol’s Portland squadron who was helping to oversee the 30 planes land and take off.

Tate, who flew charter executive jets for Maine Aviation in Portland, died when his plane crashed at 4:45 p.m. Saturday shortly after takeoff from Limington-Harmon Airport.

Officials from the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board arrived at the Limington airport Sunday morning to begin an investigation into the crash’s cause. The York County Sheriff’s Office said the investigators arrived at the airport shortly after 7 a.m. and examined mechanic logs and other documents. York County Sgt. Steven Thistlewood said he did not expect any results Sunday.

He said traffic had returned to normal Sunday at the small private airport owned by Mahmoud Kanj.

Tate was a two-year member of the Limington chapter of the Experimental Aircraft Association. He was helping the chapter prepare for the fly-in Saturday before he took off toward the Auburn-Lewiston Municipal Airport, where the FAA said he was bound.

Some of those attending Sunday’s fly-in said the accident was felt by the larger experimental aircraft community.

“But for them (the Limington chapter) it is a loss of a friend. They are a pretty close family,” said Willy Lewis, of Cumberland.

Lewis keeps his amphibious ultralight plane in the hangar at Spurwink Farm’s private air strip, where the black-and-white air sock matches the Belted Galloway cattle that graze in the surrounding fields.

Others said while the accident was tragic, it did not make them question the safety of experimental aviation.

“The most dangerous part is driving to the airport,” said Marty Tetu of Silver Lake, N.H.


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