Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Weather not cause of crash

SHELDON—The National Transportation Safety Board has determined that engine issues, not the weather, might have caused the single-engine airplane crash that killed three Wisconsin men on Tuesday, June 23, east of Sheldon.

According to the preliminary accident report issued by the NTSB on Thursday, July 2,
the 1968 Piper PA-28 plane was “destroyed when it impacted terrain while maneuvering near Sanborn” at 10:56 a.m.

The report stated that Frank Allegretti, 63, of Cambridge, Tom Boos, 60, of Fort Atkinson and Malcom McMillan, 65, of Milton departed from the Fort Atkinson Municipal Airport in southern Wisconsin at 8 a.m.

The trio were flying the refurbished red and white four-seater, co-owned by McMillan, to a prairie dog hunting excursion in Winner, SD, when the aircraft crashed into an embankment along gravel road 310th Street between Oriole and Pierce avenues about four miles east of Sheldon and a mile north of Highway 18.

NTSB senior air safety investigator Aaron Sauer, who is in charge of the investigation, said investigators still are not certain who was flying the plane.

He said Allegretti was seated in the left front seat, McMillan was seated in the right front seat, and Boos was seated in the back seat and could be considered the passenger.

While the left front seat is commonly where the pilot is seated, Sauer said both Allegretti and McMillan each had private pilot’s licenses and were seated with controls in front of them, so either could have been piloting the aircraft.

“It will take some additional work to see if we can determine who was flying and who wasn’t,” Sauer said. “If we cannot determine that, we most often go with whoever was seated in the left front seat.”

The report states that no flight plan was filed for the personal flight, but Sauer said a hand-held global positioning system found on board the plane may help investigators determine the flight’s history, including what led the aircraft to crash, coming to rest in an inverted position.

Sauer said witnesses saw the aircraft shortly before the crash, but he has not found anyone that actually saw the plane go down.

“Two witnesses did observe the plane flying low,” the investigator said. “They heard the engine sputter and cough. The engine then quit, restarted and quit again.”

Sauer said the plane then was lost behind some trees north of the accident site.

“Others observed the plane flying low, and one witness observed the wings rocking back and forth,” he said.

Investigators found skid marks on the cornfield north of 310th Street heading in a southward direction. Measurements taken at the accident site indicate a distance of 100 feet between initial contact with the cornfield and the 180-horsepower Lycoming engine’s resting point.

Although the preliminary accident report was released, Sauer said investigators continue to look for clues for what caused the plane’s engine to malfunction.

“We’re still working on it,” he said. “We’re trying to track down fuel records and maintenance records on the airplane that we have not seen yet. We’re still trying to figure out, but we’re seeking pretty common pieces of information.”

Sauer expects a detailed factual report on the crash to be completed within six months.

“It depends on how quickly we get other information sent to us, like the autopsy reports and the toxicology reports, but I would anticipate this particular case will fall somewhere along that timeline,” he said.

The NTSB office, based in Washington, D.C., then will review the report and assign a probable cause, which will be made public.

Here is a list of fatal plane crashes that have occurred in N’West Iowa, according to the National Transportation Safety Board’s aviation accident database that dates back to 1962:

Oct. 3, 2003 — A Luscombe 8E was destroyed after impacting trees and terrain northwest of Orange City, killing the pilot, Wesley Huisman, 51, rural Orange City, and a passenger, Wayne Keizer, 51, Mesa, AZ, formerly of Sioux Center. There were no witnesses to the accident, and the aircraft was found in the northwest corner of a small field, owned by the pilot’s father, about 75 yards away from two farm buildings and a silo. The destroyed aircraft was found in a near vertical position with the wreckage contained in a small area. The NTSB determined the probable cause of the accident to the pilot’s failure to maintain obstacle clearance from the trees while maneuvering at a low altitude.

Feb. 6, 1997 — The weather reported at Sioux Falls, SD, about 15 miles from Zannger Field in Larchwood, where the Cessna 150 took off, was freezing fog with one-fourth mile of visibility and 100 feet vertical visibility, with the temperature at minus 8 degrees and the dew point at minus 8 degrees. A witness who lived at the departure airport reported she saw the aircraft start its takeoff roll. She reported that she could not believe the airplane was actually departing because of the dense fog. It impacted the ground about one-half mile east of the departure and end of runway 18, killing the pilot, Robert Forehand 41, Sioux Falls, SD. The NTSB deemed the noninstrument-rated pilot’s takeoff and the weather as probable factors.

May 4, 1984 — At about 10:50 a.m. while en route to Kansas City, ground witnesses heard a snap or boom noise, followed by a high pitch sound of a Piper PA-28-180’s engine. They then observed the aircraft spin or roll out of the overcast sky at an estimated 1,500-2,000 feet. They said the aircraft continued to spin or roll until impacting the ground near Matlock. The witnesses also reported light rain was falling. An examination of the wreckage revealed that both outer wing panels had separated during the flight and were located 3,116 and 2,376 feet from the main wreckage. Both the pilot, Robert Stamp, Madison, MN, and a passenger, his wife, Marilyn, were killed. No pre-impact part failure or malfunction was found. The non-instrument rated pilot had only five hours of simulated instrument time. The NTSB deemed aircraft handling, spatial disorientation, exceeded design stress limits of the aircraft and lack of total instrument time as probable causes, with inadequate preflight planning/preparation, clouds, rain and low ceiling weather conditions as contributing factors.

Nov. 28, 1977 — A Bellanca 8KCAB departed the Canton Municipal Airport in Canton, SD, and lost control near Larchwood, killing the pilot and passenger. The NTSB cited the pilot in command failing to obtain/maintain flying speed as the probable cause.

This article appeared in the July 11, 2009 edition of The N'West Iowa REVIEW.

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