Federal report cites driver, pilot in causing fatal Owls Head plane crash

By Daniel Dunkle | May 09, 2014

Owls Head — The probable cause of the plane crash that killed three young men in November 2012 was the failure of the driver of a truck on the runway that night to verify the runway was clear and the pilot's continued takeoff after the plane's collision with the truck, according to a new report released May 8 by the National Transportation Safety Board.

The board released its probable cause report this week, which is an update from the factual report released in April.

The single-engine Cessna 172N struck a pickup truck on the runway at Knox County Regional Airport as the plane was taking off at 4:45 p.m., Nov. 16, 2012. Killed in the crash were pilot William "B.J." Hannigan III, 24, of South Portland; David Cheney, 22, of Beverly, Mass.; and Marcelo Rugini, 24, a foreign exchange student who lived at Spear's farm in Nobleboro.

They had been taking off to head back to Bangor International Airport when the plane struck a 1994 GMC Sonoma driven by Stephen Turner, 62, of Camden.

"The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident to be: The vehicle driver's failure to verify that the runway was not occupied by an airplane before crossing the runway, which resulted in the vehicle being struck by a departing airplane, and the pilot's continued takeoff with flight control damage, which subsequently resulted in an aerodynamic stall and spin at low altitude," the report states.

The report notes the driver of the truck told investigators that he did not have, nor had he been required to have, a yellow beacon light on his vehicle.

"After the accident, the airport required airport beacons to be placed on the top most portion of the vehicle and to be operational both day and night while that vehicle operates on the ramp, taxiway, runway, or any other areas that an aircraft may operate," the report states.

"It could not be determined if the driver or pilot announced their intentions over the airport common traffic advisory frequency," the report states. "A handheld radio was located on the vehicle’s dashboard; however, it was found in the 'off' position. When the radio was placed in the 'on' position and the correct frequency was set, the radio transmitted and received with no anomalies noted."

The driver told investigators he had stated his intentions over the radio before entering the runway, according to the report.

The previous report had noted the inexperience of the pilot and this updated report addresses the pilot's actions.

"Although the airplane was close to or perhaps past liftoff speed, the pilot likely could have stopped the airplane on the remaining 3,600-feet of paved runway following the impact with the vehicle," the report states. "However, the pilot did not discontinue the takeoff."

The families of three young men who died and the county reached a $3.95 million settlement in September. Most of that cost was covered by insurance, and Knox County paid only $15,000 as part of the settlement.

Courier Publications News Director Daniel Dunkle can be reached at ddunkle@courierpublicationsllc.com or 594-4401 ext. 122.

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