Investigators release factual report on fatal Owls Head plane crash

Final report on cause of crash still to come
By Daniel Dunkle | Apr 16, 2014
Source: File photo A helicopter is used to transport the bodies of three men killed in a plane crash at Knox County Regional Airport in 2012.

Owls Head — The National Transportation Safety Board has released a second, more in-depth report on the plane crash that claimed the lives of two University of Maine students and a graduate in November 2012.

Investigators had previously released a preliminary report and have now upgraded it to a factual report. Knox County Regional Airport Manager Jeffrey Northgraves said April 16 he expects a final "probable cause" report to be released next month.

The single-engine Cessna 172N struck a pickup truck on the runway at Knox County Regional Airport as it 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 new report does not list names of those involved and does not state an official cause for the crash.

It includes information about the events surrounding the crash, the experience of the pilot, the weather at the time of the crash, information about the airport, the wreckage and an autopsy report on the pilot.

Northgraves said he expects the final findings to cite both the truck driver for failing to see the aircraft and pilot error. The NTSB places a great deal of responsibility on the shoulders of pilots because pilots have the ability to make choices that affect outcomes, he said.

The report said the driver of the truck stated his intentions on the common traffic advisory frequency on his radio when driving on the runway and heard no response, nor saw anything on the runway.

"As his truck entered the runway, a blur of an object went by in front of him, striking the front of his truck," the report states. "...he observed an airplane attempting to climb. He continued watching the airplane drift to the left of runway 31 and then made 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. He observed the airplane on fire as he was driving to the accident scene. He also noticed while driving that his headlights were not working now."

An eyewitness told investigators the airplane had a "high angle of attack" and its navigation identification lights were observed rotating slowly counter clockwise.

Northgraves said a high angle of attack and slow flight indicate the nose of the plane was up more than normal and there was an opportunity for the plane to stall. Planes need to be moving at a certain speed during take off and slowing down can put them in danger of stalling out.

"It would shock me if they don't indicate stall," Northgraves said of the next report on the cause of the crash.

The report also provides information on the the pilot's level of experience:

"According to the pilot's most recent Airman Certificate and/or Rating Application, dated June 15, 2012, he had 48.5 total flight hours, 17.4 of those hours were logged as solo flight, 3.8 flight hours of night instruction received, and 0.2 hours of night flight as pilot in command. However, an accurate amount of flight time at the time of the accident could not be achieved as no pilot logbook had been located at the time of this writing."

Northgraves said this is very little flight time, indicating the pilot was inexperienced.

One of the surprises in the report, he said, was that it included information about the pilot's plans for the return trip.

The report states the "pilot had called for a weather briefing at 1208 for the flight from BGR to RKD with a proposed departure time of 1500 (3 p.m.). No return weather briefing or flight plan was requested."

He said the report implies the pilot was not planning to fly at night. Night flight is more difficult and requires pilots to rely more heavily on instruments in guiding the plane. This pilot was not instrument-rated, he said.

According to the report, when the airport runway and taxiway lights are illuminated to the full bright position, the vehicle lights were unable to be differentiated from the surrounding lights, which may speak to difficulty in seeing a truck's lights on the runway at twilight.

The cause of the pilot's death was listed as "multiple blunt injuries."

The report quotes the Knox County Regional Airport Flightline Driving Manual as follows:

• Do not enter a movement area unless you have a legitimate need, authorization from airport management and two-way aviation radio communications.

• Monitor your aviation two-way radio at all times, RDK Unicom frequency is 123.05

• After announcing your location and intentions on the radio, proceed only after you have looked in all directions, including up

• Never drive your vehicle on or across runways unless absolutely necessary and limit your time within the runway safety area by driving at an expedited but safe speed.

The manual goes on to state in part "…When driving on an AOA [airport operations area] make sure your vehicle is properly equipped for the area where you operated, i.e. radio, beacon, markings…use extreme caution at night and/or in poor weather conditions…aircraft always have the right of way…"

Northgraves said the truck technically had all the required equipment, but it did not have a rotating beacon light similar to what you would see on a plow truck. He said the FAA advises that vehicles have those lights on runways, but does not require them.

To read full report click on:

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

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