‘Root Causes’ of Jet Crash, Fiery Deaths: Population Growth and Suburban Sprawl

By The Social Contract
Volume 25, Number 2 (Winter 2015)
Issue theme: "Vanishing resources"

On December 8, 2014, a small jet crashed near the Montgomery County Airpark in Gaithersburg, Maryland.

The small jet with three onboard ripped into the side of a two-story home about a half-mile from the airport’s runway. Six people died: the pilot and two others on the jet, as well as Marie Gemmell and her infant and toddler, who were trapped on the upper floor of their blazing suburban house.

The Washington Postarticle, “Gaithersburg Grew and Swallowed Its Semi-Rural Airpark,” noted, “a plane struck a house in a neighborhood built two decades after the airport opened.” The article points out that sprawl and population growth contributed to the sudden — and appalling — fiery deaths of a mom and her two children:

The tragedy of six deaths on Drop Forge Lane in Gaithersburg will be blamed on someone or something — an error or a defect that caused the plane to go astray and plunge down on a quiet cul-de-sac — but its root cause may lie in the unfettered expansion that has put some airport runways cheek to jowl with suburban development.

What the Post skillfully dodged is that much of this “unfettered expansion” and “suburban development” is the result of a steady influx of immigrants. Census data reveal the key factor behind Gaithersburg’s expanding population: Nearly 40 percent of its residents are foreign born. Gaithersburg’s population in 1970 (14,849) was merely one quarter the size of its estimated current population of 64,782.

Several businesses, which cater to Latin Americans, are within 1,500 feet of the airpark (see examples below). The residential and commercial expansion of Gaithersburg reflects the demographic transformation of a once rural area into an increasingly diverse — and dangerously congested — Maryland suburb. ■