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Two killed in crash of Wright brothers replica plane

COLUMBUS, Ohio (Reuters) - Two men were killed in Ohio on Saturday while testing a replica of a Wright brothers biplane.

The fabric-covered aircraft went down three to four miles south of the Springfield-Beckley Municipal Airport, at about 10:45 a.m. local time, airport manager Mick Lecocq said.

The Ohio State Highway Patrol identified the fliers as Don Gum, 73, of Beaver Creek, Ohio, and Mitchell Cary, 64, of Yellow Springs, Ohio. Both were qualified pilots.

The aircraft was owned by Wright B Flyer Inc., an organization dedicated to preserving the heritage of the Wright Brothers and their association with Dayton, Ohio.

Dayton is where the Wrights lived and built the propeller plane flown in 1903 at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, in the first successful airplane flight in history.

Phil Beaudoin, president of Wright B Flyer Inc., said Cary and Gum were volunteer pilots and members of the organization's board of trustees.

"Mitch and Don were highly competent pilots with extensive experience flying Wright B Flyer's airplanes and other experimental aircraft," Beaudoin said in a statement.

"They always observed the highest standards of safety. They made enormous contributions to our organization and to the aviation heritage community. They were good friends and we will miss them deeply," he added.

Cary was a retired U.S. Air Force colonel and a former president of the organization, Beaudoin said.

The replica plane that Gum and Cary were using when it crashed had its first test flight on June 14, according to the website for Wright B Flyer Inc.

Lecocq said the two pilots had been keeping the aircraft at the airport.

He said they had been able to get the biplane up between 4,000 to 5,000 feet, but would usually fly it at between 2,000 and 3,000 feet.

"It's a very unfortunate incident," said Lecocq. He added that the Ohio State Highway Patrol was investigating the crash.

Springfield is about 45 miles west of Columbus.

(Writing by Mary Wisniewski; Additional reporting by Jim Leckrone in Columbus; Editing by Tim Gaynor and Alex Dobuzinskis)

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