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Initial report released on Hampton plane crash

Photo by Hugh Osteen

Photo by Hugh Osteen

By Johnny Jackson

jjackson@henryherald.com

No major in-flight mechanical failures have been found from the March 8 plane crash in Hampton. Witnesses said the aircraft struggled to gain altitude and airspeed, and stalled prior to plunging into a wooded marsh area. Two were killed.

These summarized findings are contained in a preliminary report into the cause of the crash. Oriel Roberts, 48, of Hampton and Bryan Hedrick, 37, of Roswell were killed.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has published a preliminary report of environmental conditions before, and after, the 1967 Dehavilland-6-100, Twin Otter crashed in Henry County.

NTSB AeroSafety Investigator Luke Schiada led the probe into what may have caused the plane crash. The NTSB is an independent federal agency charged with investigating all civil aviation accidents in the country.

The preliminary report affirmed the plane crash occurred around 11:40 a.m. It said the plane, registered through the FAA to Desert Sand Aircraft Leasing Company Inc., was substantially damaged when it impacted terrain during an approach into the Clayton County Airport at Tara Field in Hampton.

The commercial pilot, and a pilot-rated mechanic were fatally injured. Local authorities released the names of the victims, but would not identify them further.

The report noted the pilot, who was not identified, had about 900 hours of total flight experience on his most recent Federal Aviation Administration first-class medical certificate, which was issued on May 25, 2010.

The Associated Press reported that Hedrick was piloting the plane. Roberts' sister, Sharon Roberts, told the Henry Daily Herald that her brother had experience flying, and worked for National AeroTech Aviation, Inc., at Tara Field.

The NTSB preliminary report indicated skies were clear, with 10 statute miles of visibility. Winds blew at 9 knots (10.35 miles per hour), gusting to 18 knots (20.76 miles per hour). Temperatures that morning held at 14 degrees Celsius (57 degrees Fahrenheit).

No flight plan had been filed for the local maintenance test flight, which was conducted under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91, the report uncovered.

The NTSB report said witnesses reported the flight was the first flight after both of the airplane's Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-20, 550-horsepower engines, were replaced with PT6A-27, 680-horsepower engines. The same Hartzell propellers utilized on the PT6A-20 engines, were reinstalled on the PT6A-27 engines.

The report stated that one witness, who is a mechanic, observed the pilot conduct pre-takeoff engine and propeller checks, prior to takeoff. The witness reported that the airplane completed two uneventful touch-and-go landings.

Another witness, near the airport, observed the airplane flying in the traffic pattern for runway 6 -- a 4,503-foot long, 75-foot wide, asphalt runway. The report cited the witness's account of the flight:

"The airplane's engine noise was fluctuating from low to high, without stopping completely," stated the observer. He added the airplane was "struggling to gain altitude and airspeed," and as the airplane turned to line-up with the runway, it "stalled" and descended nose first toward the ground.

The airplane impacted trees in a wooded marsh area, about 0.8 miles prior to the threshold, near the extended centerline of runway 6, according to the NTSB preliminary report. It came to rest about 80-degrees vertically, and canted about 25-degrees on the right wing.

All major portions of the airplane were accounted for at the accident site. The report said the front end of the fuselage forward of station 110, which included the cockpit, was destroyed.

The report revealed the right wing remained attached to the fuselage, while the left wing separated. A 21-foot-long portion of the outboard left wing was located suspended in a tree about 15 to 20 feet above the ground, 33 feet northwest of the main wreckage.

An undetermined amount of fuel was reportedly observed leaking from the airplane's main fuel tank. 100-gallons of "Jet-A" fuel was added to the airplane prior to the initial takeoff, according to a fuel receipt.

"Initial examination of the airframe and both engines did not reveal any catastrophic in-flight mechanical failures," read the report. "However, the wreckage was retained for further examination."

The initial review of maintenance records revealed, at the time of the accident, the airplane had been operated for about 16,540 total hours since it was new, and both PT6A-27 engines had been operated for 3,780 total hours since new.

Investigators will continue to work on gathering facts related to the plane crash, and may update the preliminary report periodically, according to NTSB Spokesman Peter Knudson. A final report will be developed over the next several months, up to a year.

Knudson said the final report will be sent to a five-member panel of the Washington, D.C.-based NTSB. The board will use the report to determine a probable cause of the plane crash.