Former West Milford man killed in Florida air show crash

West Milford. A former township resident, and aviation enthusiast, died during a practice flight at a Florida air show Friday.

04 Nov 2019 | 02:20

A doctor formerly from West Milford, with many dermatology offices in three states and a passion for flying his vintage plane in air shows, was killed Nov. 1 when his OV-1D Mohawk crashed and was engulfed in flames in Florida, officials said.

Dr. Joseph Masessa, 59, died while taking a practice flight before the start of the Audi Stuart Air Show in Stuart, Florida, Friday afternoon.

According to National Transportation Safety Board spokesman Peter Knudson, the Grumman aircraft crashed at 1:10 p.m. and burst into flames about three minutes after takeoff.

“On Friday, Nov. 1, 2019, we lost Dr. Joe Masessa while preparing for this weekend’s event,” a post on the air show’s Facebook page said. “Joe was a beloved performer of the air show, a local Floridian, and will forever be family. He will always be remembered as we move forward in future endeavors. On behalf of the Audi Stuart Air Show, we would like to extend our deepest condolences to the Masessa family.”

The show dedicated the Sunday performance to Dr. Masessa and Geoff Painter.

Dr. Masessa was one of three sons born to Robert and Dorothy Masessa, a well-known Township of West Milford family that originally lived on Morsetown Road near the township business center in the 1960s and 70s.

The three sons, Robert, Joseph and Jeffrey were educated in township schools and graduated from West Milford High School before pursuing higher education.

Joseph was in the 1978 West Milford High School graduation class.

Robert became a lawyer, Joseph, a medical doctor, and Jeffrey pursued the field of finance, eventually handling the financial aspects of Joseph’s business.

The father, Robert Masessa, died suddenly at a young age.

Dorothy, his wife, and mother of the three sons, was a secretary at Marshall Hill School before earning her education degree as a teacher.

She continued to teach at Apshawa School until her retirement over 20 years ago.

Remarried later, she lived at Old Milford Estates and now lives in Naples, Florida,

Dr. Joe’s first office was located in a small building on Union Valley Road that was eventually torn down and replaced by the current West Milford Post Office building.

He continued to expand and open new dermatology businesses in New Jersey, South Carolina and Florida.

He specialized in treating skin cancer, surgery and cosmetic dermatology, with facilities in New Jersey located in Rockaway, Parsippany, Clifton, Newfoundland and Kearney.

In Florida he had six offices from Boynton Beach to Port St. Lucie. His offices in South Carolina included one at Myrtle Beach.

Dr. Joe also did some auto racing for about five years before becoming a pilot.

He found his Vietnam vintage plane in Utah and restored it, putting the names of 1,636 American soldiers who were listed as “missing” in the war.

He also owned a smaller propeller plane that he used to commute to the states where he had homes and offices.

Masessa was scheduled to fly in the Nov. 1 weekend Air Show at Stuart Florida. On Friday he was doing a routine practice when his twin-engine plane went nose down onto the runway, Chris Kammel, Bureau Chief of Martin County Fire Rescue EMS, said in a report.

Witnesses outside the airport said they saw black smoke after the crash on a runway extension at Witham Field, with the plane fully engulfed in flames.

In 2016, Dr. Joe returned to West Milford to participate in the Greenwood Lake Air Show.

He was listed in the program to participate in his Grumman Mohawk OV-1.

The program notes said he was a 4,000 plus-hour pilot at the time, holding multiple ratings including multi-engine, ATP (Airline Transportation Pilot) and multi-engine instrument.

The program said he held ratings in the Citation 500, 550 and 560 series jets, along with the Grumman Mohawk OV-1.

His mother, Dorothy, and other family members were at the 2016 show and along with Dr. Joe, visiting with friends, including former classmates, colleagues, and neighbors who reunited with Dr. Joe on the Greenwood Lake Airport field.

His prize vintage plane was parked on the tarmac and he was enthusiastic in telling show visitors all about it.

The NTSB said a preliminary report on the crash should be available to the public in 1-2 weeks.

Charles Kim contributed to this report.