Loss of elevator caused 'substantial damage' to Cessna in Owls Head fatal crash
Owls Head — A preliminary report by the National Transportation Safety Board on the investigation of the fatal aircraft accident at Knox County Airport Nov. 16 said the plane was "substantially damaged" when it had an impact with a pickup truck on the runway and the terrain during takeoff.
The loss of the elevator, which gives the plane the ability to climb or ascend, was considered substantial damage to the airplane, according to the NTSB report.
Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and no flight plan was filed, said the report.
The private pilot and two passengers were fatally injured and the occupant of the "non-airport vehicle," or private truck, was not injured, the report said.
The intended destination of the flight was Bangor International Airport.
Stephen Turner, 62, of Camden, the owner and operator of the pickup truck, a 1994 GMC Sonoma, told the NTSB he was driving his vehicle on the taxiway and had followed another aircraft out to taxiway "alpha." The other airplane continued down taxiway "delta" and Turner proceeded with his vehicle to the hold short line of the runway.
Turner announced his intentions on the common traffic advisory frequency using a radio in his vehicle, heard no response nor saw anything on the runway, and proceeded to cross runway 31.
The Cessna was about four feet off the ground when its tail clipped Turner's truck and lost its right elevator, said one witness.
The report did not say whether Turner felt or heard the collision with the plane. He has not returned a phone call for comment.
Turner said he subsequently saw something "grayish" in color, continued to cross the runway, and then got out to inspect what he saw. He observed an airplane attempting to climb, the report stated. He continued watching the airplane drift to the left of the runway and make a left turn as if attempting to return to the airport.
"Subsequently, the airplane was then observed in 'slow flight' and then it began to 'spin,'" according to the report.
One eyewitness statement said the airplane was seen departing to the west and appeared to be doing a left "chandelle" type maneuver. One pilot said a chandelle is a move taught to pilots to help them pull out of a spin and get a plane's nose in the air.
The airplane also had what appeared to be a high angle of attack.
"Sometimes when a plane makes too steep an ascent, its engine can stall, and cause it to lose control and go into a downward spin," said Jim Ostheimer, an experienced Air Force pilot who lives in Rockport. "That would have been an effect of the damage caused by the plane's losing its elevator," said Ostheimer, who was not in the NTSB report.
The report went on to say that at about 200 feet above ground level, the navigation identification lights were observed rotating slowly counter clockwise. The airplane then appeared to pitch down and descend behind trees.
Examination of the airplane revealed that it impacted the ground in a nose-down altitude, next to a tree, approximately 2,200 feet from the location where the plane had collided with the vehicle, said the report. That's about two-fifths of a mile. After it crashed in the woods, the plane caught fire.
The report bears out the finding of the state's Chief Medical Examiner in Augusta, which said Nov. 21 the three occupants, William Hannigan III, 24, of South Portland, David Cheney, 22, of Beverly, Mass., and Marcelo Rugini, 24, of Multireno, Brazil, were killed on impact.
The right elevator of the tail was later found in the vicinity of the initial impact location on the runway, the report said.
The report cautioned that the information is preliminary, subject to change, and may contain errors. Any errors in the report will be corrected when the final report has been completed.
NTSB investigators either traveled in support of the investigation or conducted a significant amount of investigative work without any travel, and used data obtained from various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.
Courier Publications reporter George Chappell can be reached by phone at 207-594-4401, ext. 117, or by email at email@example.com.