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Plane crash was second fatal accident in week releated to wind-turbine research

The plane crash that killed two people and injured two more Saturday was the second fatal accident in less than a week involving researchers studying the effects that off-shore wind turbines might have on the environment.

On May 12, a crewmember of a Flemington-based research vessel, studying the effects of a planned wind farm off the coast of Rehoboth Beach, Del., was killed when the vessel broke apart and washed ashore during a northeaster.

In Saturday’s crash near the Eagles Nest Airport, scientist Stephen Claussen, of Seattle, and plane-owner and pilot John Ambroult, 60, of Eastham, Mass., were killed.

Two other scientists aboard the flight, Juan Carlos Salinas, 43, of Mexico City, and Jacalyn Brown, 28, of Pemberton, Burlington County, were seriously injured.

Claussen, 41, a self-trained marine mammal expert, earned national recognition for his years of work training Keiko, the killer whale featured in the movie “Free Willy.”

Brown was still listed in critical condition as of Tuesday night, according to hospital staff. Salinas, who reportedly suffered a broken neck in the crash, remained in fair condition.

The Cessna 337 Skymaster they were on was hired by Geo-Marine, Inc., a Plano, Texas,-based environmental and engineering firm that was hired by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection to study the effects a planned off-shore wind farm would have on marine animals.

According to Mark Tanner, the president of Geo-Marine, the privately held company won a contract with the DEP in August to survey an area 30-miles wide and 120-miles long off the coast of New Jersey from Cape May to north of Atlantic City.

Geo-Marine began its three-pronged study, which consisted of two boats and a plane, in January.

“The part of the aerial study was to zigzag up and down the survey area and for the experts to report what they saw,” Tanner said.

Claussen and Salinas were hired by Geo-Marine on a temporary basis because the study was set to take place only one weekend a month for 18 months, Tanner said.

“It’s my understanding that they are both well-recognized and well-respected in the marine community,” Tanner said. “People in that world tend to know each other, because they move from project to project, often end up being on the same ship-borne or air-borne survey.”

Brown was hired as a full-time employee by the company’s Millville office in January, Tanner said.

Even though the trio of scientists only worked for his company for a short time, the company’s staff was hit hard by the new of the crash, he said.

“The folks know each. They’re all scientists. It’s not like there is 10 million of them. There’s just a handful,” Tanner said. “And even if they didn’t know them directly, our people are people. They are worried. It always hits closer when something like this happens to someone from your company.”

Staff writer Rich Degener contributed to this report.

By Rob Spahr
Staff Writer


21 May 2008