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Preliminary Report on Plane Crash Adds Little New as Homeowner’s Trauma Endures

| January 18, 2013

What's left of the house on Utica Path in Seminole Woods. (c FlaglerLive)

What’s left of the house on Utica Path in Seminole Woods. (c FlaglerLive)

The National Transportation Safety Board Friday (Jan. 18) issued its first preliminary findings from its ongoing investigation of the Jan. 4 plane crash in Seminole Woods that claimed the life of three people and demolished a house.

But other than the revelation that the pilot had reported zero oil pressure in the plane moments before the crash, the 370-word report, which appears in full below, adds no information that hadn’t already been gleaned and publicized by investigators in the 48 hours after the crash. That’s not unusual NTSB investigations can take up to a year.

The plane crashed into the house owned by Susan Crockett at 22 Utica Path shortly after 2 p.m. that Friday, after the pilot of the plane, a Beechcraft H35, identified as N375B, had reported vibrations in the propeller and the engine when relaying information to the Daytona Beach airport. The pilot, Michael Anders, was a Spanish teacher at a school in Kentucky, where he lived. The plane was traveling from Fort Pierce to Knoxville Downtown Island Airport, not far from Anders’s Kentucky home. He lived in an airport community.

“At 2 miles from runway 29, no further transmissions from the airplane were received,” the NTSB report states, referring to runway 29 at the Flagler County Airport. The pane crashed a mile from the runway, clipping a pine trees’ limb before crashing into the rear of the house. Anders was traveling with Duane L. Shaw, a 59-year-old friend from Albany, and the friend’s girlfriend, Charisse Peoples, 42. The trio had gone to the Virgin Islands to house-sit a house over the Christmas holidays.

Anders, the report states, “reported that the engine oil pressure was zero with ‘cool cylinders.'”

The plane as if dropped from the sky into the house on Utica Path: the walls of the house are still virtually intact, all around. The point of impact into the house was the roof’s almost dead-center, even though the house at its back is ringed by very tall pine trees, suggesting that there was a sudden, catastrophic drop of altitude for the plane.

Early Friday afternoon, Marc Dwyer, the Palm Coast attorney representing Crocket, held a news conference with Crockett at Dwyer’s office in Palm Coast’s Town Center. Dwyer said he’d been fielding numerous calls after the NTSB report was published, and that, on behalf of Crockett, he wanted to address media questions for good, but also note that he and Crockett would no longer answer questions for now, barring significant new developments in the investigation.

“It’s time for her to really start putting the incident behind her, but it’s causing her trouble,” Dwyer said.

Crockett reiterated how thankful she was for the community’s supportive response, telling the story of one man in particular who gave her his Christmas gift card–a gesture emblematic of many people’s generosity. Crockett also credited “the Holy Spirit,” she said, for looking over her and, as she described it, intervening at the key moment to keep her looking for a pair of footwear in one room, rather than go in another–where she would have been under the nose of the place, and likely joined the fatalities.

The back of the house. Click on the image for larger view. (c FlaglerLive)

The back of the house. Click on the image for larger view. (c FlaglerLive)

Crockett is staying at Royal Palms, an assisted living facility in Bunnell, and has been unable to return to work (she is a teacher trainer). She is not eager to return to the property on Utica Path. “At this point she has not made that decision, but in her heart at this stage she feels the answer is no,” Dwyer said, “she doesn’t want to be anywhere near that location, and sounds of loud noises are making her jump. Sounds of airplanes are causing her anxiety.” She is still traumatized, Dwyer said.

In the NTSB report, Dwyer said, “there was only one thing that wasn’t absolutely clear on the day of, and that was having to do with his mentioning to the air traffic controllers there being no oil in the engine.” The detail is significant on two counts. To Crockett, “she already was very visceral and sympathetic for the pilot and his companions who ended up losing their lives,” Dwyer said. The detail may possibly give her “the comfort of knowing that it wasn’t entirely his error.”

From a lawyer’s perspective, Dwyer said the details opens “a whole new can of worms” because “that may tell a story of whether this accident could have been avoided.” The question now is why had the oil pressure run to zero, Dwyer said–whether from a leak, a lack of proper maintenance, or other factors. “From her lawyer’s standpoint, it absolutely raises other questions and a trail that has to be followed before this is resolved.”

Crockett has been relying on the benevolence and generosity of friends, family, and her Calvary Baptist church members, who’ve come out in large, supportive numbers. A fund was established at Intracoastal Bank, the Susan B. Crockett Relief Fund, to help her.

NTSB Identification: ERA13FA105
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Friday, January 04, 2013 in Palm Coast, FL
Aircraft: BEECH H35, registration: N375B
Injuries: 3 Fatal.

This is preliminary information, subject to change, and may contain errors. Any errors in this report will be corrected when the final report has been completed. NTSB investigators either traveled in support of this 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.

On January 4, 2013 at 1419 eastern standard time, a Beechcraft H35, N375B, was destroyed when it impacted a house during a forced landing in Palm Coast, Florida. The private pilot and two passengers were fatally injured. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed and a visual flight rules flight plan was filed for the flight, which departed Saint Lucie County International Airport (FPR), Fort Pierce, Florida, and was destined for Knoxville Downtown Island Airport (DKX), Knoxville, Tennessee. The personal flight was conducted under the provisions of Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91.

According to preliminary air traffic control voice communication information provided by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the pilot contacted Daytona Approach control, and reported vibrations in the propeller and engine. The FAA Daytona Approach controller advised the pilot that the airports in the area were instrument flight rules with cloud ceilings of 900 to 1000 feet above ground level. The pilot received radar vectors for an airport surveillance radar (ASR) approach to guide him to runway 29 at Flagler County Airport (XFL), Palm Coast, Florida. The ASR was not a published approach, however the pilot did hold an instrument rating. Several minutes later, the pilot reported that the engine oil pressure was zero with “cool cylinders.” Radar vectors from Daytona Approach continued and the pilot was cleared to land. At 2 miles from runway 29, no further transmissions from the airplane were received.

According to witnesses, the airplane was visually observed on final approach at an unusually low altitude. About 1 mile from the approach end of runway 29, the witnesses lost sight of the airplane behind tall pine trees.

The accident site was located about 4,200 feet southeast of XFL. The initial impact point (IIP) was identified as a tree with broken limbs, with various components of wreckage extending from that point on a heading of 288 degrees magnetic for 50 feet. Following the IIP, the majority of the airplane impacted the roof of a detached single family home and a large fire ensued, which destroyed most of the airplane and dwelling.

The airplane wreckage was moved to a nearby storage facility for examination. An engine examination will be conducted at the manufacturer’s facility at a later date.

4 Responses for “Preliminary Report on Plane Crash Adds Little New as Homeowner’s Trauma Endures”

  1. confidential says:

    Aren’t the house insurance and the aircraft owners insurance responsible to provide housing and all needs of this lady home owner, while the investigation takes place?
    That means that if same were to happen in my home about 8 miles away from this airport I will have to relay on the good will of people and charity for housing and other needs, while the investigation goes on?
    Or our insurance coverage and claims are treated different regarding aviation accidents? No wonder I do not want aircraft practicing over our heads and I call the airport when they get out of hand with risky maneuvers.

  2. BlueBoy says:

    I’ve read about the incident on aviation blogs. The comments that intrigued me most were from experienced pilots. They questioned the pilots decision who was at 7,000 ft. altitude to reduced that altitude AFTER experiencing engine problems. They all said they would have chosen to divert to Flagler Apt. but without intentionally reducing altitude, so as to be able to dead stick the plane to a safe landing if necessary. I gathered from the discussion that had the pilot declared an emergency perhaps ATC might no have advised him to descend to such a low altitude so far away from the airport.

    Yeah, I know. Hindsight.

  3. NortonSmitty says:

    A couple of points. First the report says that the engine had no oil pressure, not “no oil” as the homeowner said. Also the cylinders were cool. These facts are consistent with what the pilot reported, that he had a severe vibration due to the propeller breaking or de-laminating. When this happens, the vibration is so severe that it will tear the engine off the plane if allowed to continue. This will make the plane impossible to control and the engine falls away and the plane spirals in.

    So standard procedure is to shut the engine off to stop the process and try to glide in to an airport if possible or a controlled emergency off-airport landing with a good chance of survival. The indications of no oil pressure and cool cylinders show this is undoubtedly what the pilot was attempting to do.

    As far as the above post about positioning directly over an airport in an emergency to insure being able to spiral down to a safe landing, this is always recommended if you have enough altitude and an airport. I had not read of the planes 7kft altitude, which should let it glide at least 10 miles in an normal engine out situation or that he had not declared an emergency (always a bureaucratic and legal nightmare for pilots). But there are some things we can speculate about.

    First, the glide angle and distance is calculated and posted in the Aircraft Operating Handbook, so the pilot can know how far he can glide in an emergency situation such as this in this exact plane. But this is demonstrated with the propeller “Feathered” with the narrow side forward to minimize the drag. If he was having prop problems, it’s possible that the prop didn’t feather but kept the wide side forward and acted like a big airbrake, greatly reducing the planes speed and glide distance. This would turn an easy unpowered airport landing into a crash and also explain why he didn’t feel the need to call an emergency.

    Second, when pilots train for this emergency and when they are tested every 2 years for proficiency, the examiner does not shut the engine off totally, as if it has a problem re-starting, the test emergency becomes real. So the test is done with the engine pulled back to idle. This gives a slightly longer glide and has been known to surprise pilots when they have an actual dead stick emergency.

    The two speculations above in no way are meant to disparage the proficiency of the pilot in this case or belittle the outcome. Whatever the final determination is as to the cause of this tragedy, it will be widely disseminated and studied by every pilot in the country and the world to insure they remember to guard against the mechanical and/or mental mistakes that were made here.

    The margin of error is always very small in flight and you can’t stop to pull over and think about them when they happen. So you study and train endlessly to make your response quick if not automatic. This is enough over 99.9% of the time, but unfortunately not always.

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