Homebuilder's plane clipped tree before crashing into Lyon Twp. house, witness tells aviation authorities

Ariana Taylor
The Detroit News

Federal aviation officials are looking into a witness report that a private plane that crashed into a Lyon Township home on Saturday clipped a tree before striking the residence.

The plane was piloted by Northville homebuilder David S. Compo, who died along with his wife and son in the fiery crash. The home's occupants safely fled after the crash.

"We have a witness report that the plane struck a tree and then struck the house," said Peter Knudson, a spokesman for the National Transportation Safety Board, on Sunday night. "That’s the information we have. We don’t have any surveillance video to our knowledge.

"The weather was overcast, and the witness did say that the plane emerged from the cloud deck and shortly thereafter struck the tree, and then struck the house."

Federal aviation officials haven't drawn any conclusions yet about the cause of the crash, Knudson said.

"There was a significant post-crash fire," Knudson added. "Oftentimes these planes have fuel in them, and so that often drives the fire. 

Federal aviation officials will have a preliminary report completed in 10 to 14 days that will lay out the facts and circumstances surrounding the crash, he said.

Mr. Compo was remembered Sunday for his passion by business associates, who also counted him as a friend. He was 60.

Mr. Compo, past president of the Home Builders Association of Southeastern Michigan, was passionate about his family-owned home building company, Compo Builders Inc., helping young adults move into skilled trades, his family and flying planes, they said. 

"He just was a man of strong character and devotion to his family and his job," said Bill Phillips, homebuilders association president in 2017 and decades-long friend.

"Dave was a good guy, and there's going to be a lot of people who are going to miss him a lot. ... It was just a shock, an absolute shock." 

David S. Compo

Richard Kligman, Home Builders Association of Southeastern Michigan  president in 2012 and current treasurer, said Mr. Compo "built beautiful homes, loved his clients, loved working with the suppliers and subcontractors."

"He was the shirt off his back kind of guy. If you ever needed anything, you can always go to him and know that he'd come through for you," Kligman said.

On Saturday, Mr. Compo, an experienced, licensed pilot, his wife, Michele Compo, 55, and their 18-year-old son, Dawson Compo, were killed when their private plane smashed into a home a half-mile north of the New Hudson airport.

Mr. Compo had flown to Canton, Georgia, on Dec. 29 in a single-engine Piper PA-24 Comanche passed down from his father. The family was returning home to Northville on Saturday when the crash occurred, the homebuilders association said. 

The crash happened around 4 p.m. in the 57000 block of Dakota Drive, according to witnesses. The residents of the home the plane smashed into escaped, the Oakland County Sheriff's Office said. 

The Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board will investigate.

David Compo, left, and long time friend Bill Phillips just before take off on Compo's private plane.

Mr. Compo had accrued thousands of piloting hours, said Michael Stoskopf, CEO of the homebuilders association. It wasn't uncommon for Mr. Compo to fly his wife or business associates to dinner in Chicago or to watch the sunset in Traverse City. 

At some Home Builders Association events, Mr. Compo would donate flights to Mackinac Island as a prize. Mr. Compo had also flown yearly trips for Operation Good Cheer, which provides Christmas gifts for foster children in Michigan.

As the deputy grand knight of the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal service, Mr. Compo told Stoskopf that he filled his plane up to the brim with gifts and made three trips to drop off presents for kids in the Saginaw area. 

"He was very passionate about the industry. ... He was not only trying to build his business, which he has been very successful at as a second generation builder company ... but also to progress the industry and help others in the industry," Stoskopf said. 

Including his passion for flying, Mr. Compo also inherited his love of architecture and building from his father, James. Mr. Compo's grandfather, John, was a builder and started the family tradition, leading to Mr. Compo's father and mother, Janet, starting James D. Compo Inc. in 1961. 

Mr. Compo was a part of the family business at an early age, refining his architectural drawing skills by 12 and drawing the majority of the working plans for his parents' company by age 15, according to a homebuilders association biography.

Getting his architectural degree from Lawrence Tech, Mr. Compo worked in his parents' company for 33 years until he and his brother, Christopher, founded Compo Builders Inc. and received accolades for their work. 

Compo Builders became a family-oriented business as well, with Mr. Compo's wife, Michele, working as secretary, treasurer and accountant for the company. Kligman called Michele Compo the one who kept Mr. Compo grounded. 

"Michele was just a sweetheart. ... David was the bigger-than-life personality and Michelle was the calm and steady, at times behind the scenes but right next to him," said Kligman. "He loved her and loved Dawson immensely. Family was important to David."

The couple's son, Dawson, was getting ready to start his second semester at Michigan State University after graduating from Catholic Central High School in Detroit last year.

Dawson ran cross country and was in band at Catholic Central. After refurbishing a shelter at Maybury State Park, Dawson reached Eagle Scout status with the Boy Scouts Troop 755 in Northville last year. 

Back left: Dawson, Michele and David Compo. In front row: Lisa Compo, Janet Compo and Christopher Compo.

 "(Dawson) excelled. ... He pushed the limits of everything that he did," said Phillips. "He was active in many of the scouting adventure trips and activities. ... He was a kid of strong character, a godly guy and he was a lot of fun to hang with."

Stoskopf said Mr. Compo served as president for the association's southeastern chapter during its hardest year, finishing his term on New Year's Eve.

"He just shined as president. He did a wonderful job. ... He never forgot a face and every board meeting was started with prayer," Phillips said.

His latest work included a presentation association members can use to get kids  interested in the building industry, he said. Mr. Compo also was working on a scholarship fund for high schoolers to be sponsored by the association.

Stoskopf said the scholarship fund may now be named the David Compo Memorial Fund. 

"David's passion was for that, and that's really hopefully the legacy ... that he will end up leaving for our industry," Stoskopf said.