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First pilot to land on Mount Washington dies

LUDLOW, Mass. -- Carmeno Onofrio, the first man to land a plane on the windy and snow-covered summit of Mount Washington in New Hampshire, died Sunday at Ludlow Hospital following a long illness. He was 75.

Onofrio made aviation history when he landed March 12, 1947, on Mount Washington, the highest peak in the Northeast which is known for its high winds and poor visibility. Because of treacherous air currents, he had to try three times before he set the plane down on the 6,288-foot peak in the White Mountains.

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Onofrio made the flightin a ski-equipped, 65-horsepower 1937 Piper Cub and later made 42 trips over several weeks, carrying equipment, supplies and passengers for a weather project on the summit.

According to the official history for the small northern New Hampshire town of Milan, where Onofrio lived for many years, former Postmaster Thomas Taylor recorded the event this way:

'The first mail ever picked up by an airplane on the summit of Mount Washington was delivered to the Milan Post Office for dispatch at 4 p.m. Wednesday, March 12, 1947. Carman Onofrio, manager of the Berlin (N.H.) Airport, made a landing there, and delivered goods to the weather observatory boys and brought out the first mail via air,' the postmaster wrote.

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Onofrio was manager of Berlin Airport, north of Mount Washington, from 1944 to 1958. The idea for the flight began at a 1947 conference at the bottom of the mountain at the Glen House resort, a hotel which has since burned down.

Officials wanted to land a plane on Mount Washington so materials for an icing research project could be brought to National Weather Service observatory. The day after his first successful flight, Onofrio made 12 trips, carrying about 1 ton of equipment, according to Avis Croteau, Milan town historian.

Clarence Brungot of Berlin, an amateur pilot who knew Onofrio for 40 years, said the pilot 'built his first airplane way back in the 20s. He just experimented, learned to fly himself.

'He was quite a mechanic. He built all kinds of different machinery. He was a welder, a licensed airplane mechanic. He was always puttering with something. He built his own snowblower to blow snow off the runways at the airport,' Brungot said.

Gordon Bunker, a state aeronautics inspector, said Onofrio was 'practically self-educated. He was a natural flyer, a brilliant man.'

Onofrio was born in Canton, Maine, and lived in Milan, a small town outside Berlin, while he was the airport manager. During World War II, he directed a civilian pilot training program in Keene, N.H., for the U.S. Navy.

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He retired from Berlin Airport in 1958 and later went to live with relatives in Ludlow. He is survived by two sons, four daughters and several nieces, nephews and cousins.

Funeral services will be held Tuesday afternoon at the Bryant Parker Funeral Home in Berlin. Burial will be at Hillcrest Cemetery in Milan.

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