Mom died apparently sheltering young sons as plane crashed into house

When firefighters entered the second-floor bathroom of one of the houses damaged by the crash of a private jet in Gaithersburg, Md., they were confronted by the bodies of a mother apparently trying to protect her two small children from the devastation that fell from the sky.

"The way they found them, it looked like she was trying to shelter them from the smoke and fire," Montgomery County police spokesman Capt. Paul Starks told the Los Angeles Times on Tuesday.


"They were all in the bathroom when firefighters investigated," he said. "We don't know what was running through her mind, but she was apparently trying to shelter them."

Marie Gemmell, 36; sons Cole, 3, and Devin, 6 weeks, were all dead of smoke inhalation, Starks said. They lived in the house that was the most heavily damaged in the Monday crash that also killed the three people on the plane.

Marie's husband, Ken, and their 5-year-old daughter, Arabella, were not inside the home at the time of the crash. More than $200,000 has been raised to help the family.

"No words can describe the enormity of our loss and sadness over yesterday's tragedy. We lost Marie, the love of my life and college sweetheart, and our two young, innocent and joyful sons – a loss that no person should ever endure," Ken Gemmell said in a statement on Facebook.

The National Transportation Safety Board has sent investigators to the scene and has recovered the cockpit voice and flight data recorders. Crash investigations usually take months to complete.

At a Tuesday afternoon news conference, NTSB spokesman Robert Sumwalt said a preliminary investigation found no evidence of an in-flight fire, catastrophic engine failure or birds hitting the engines. About 20 seconds before the end of one of the recordings, an automated stall-warning alarm sounds, he said.

That type of warning indicates an impending aerodynamic stall which happens when airflow over the top of the wings gets disrupted, he said.

About 11 a.m. on Monday, an Embraer EMB-500/Phenom 100 twin-engine jet crashed about one mile north of the Montgomery County Airport, according to federal officials.

The corporate jet, registered to Sage Aviation of Chapel Hill, N.C., was en route to Montgomery County Airpark, an airport for private planes about 20 miles north of Washington, D.C. Eyewitnesses said they saw the plane wobbling on approach.

A North Carolina pharmaceutical consulting firm announced Tuesday that one of its employees was among those who died.

According Nuventra Pharma Sciences, of Durham, David Hartman was among the passengers on the plane. Hartman was the company's vice president of clinical pharmacology, pharmacokinetics and nonclinical development, the company said.

"We are deeply saddened by the loss of David and will miss him both personally and professionally," said Geoffrey Banks, Nuventra's CEO, in a statement. "On behalf of all of us at Nuventra, our thoughts and prayers are with David's family as well as others affected by this terrible tragedy."

Also killed were Dr. Michael Rosenberg, 66, the founder of Health Decisions, a North Carolina-based clinical research organization. The sixth passenger has yet to be named.

The plane apparently exploded into pieces as it crashed, officials said. One of the wings, which contained fuel, went into the Gemmell home, igniting it. Two other homes were also damaged.


Twitter: @latimesmuskal