NTSB: Plane lost wing before fatal Avon Park crash
The Cessna 0-2A Skymaster that crashed in Avon Park on Nov. 17, killing all three people aboard, lost its right wing in flight before slamming into the ground, according to a preliminary National Transportation Safety Board report. The flight - operated by a private company to provide aerial support to an Air Force Special Operations Command training mission - took off from the MacDill Air Force Base auxiliary field in Avon Park at 7:20 p.m., according to the report. Onboard were a commercial pilot and two pilot-rated passengers. Once the wing came off, there nothing the pilot could have done, according to an aviation expert who trains crash investigators. Depending on its altitude, the plane would have crashed less than a minute after the wing came off, according to William Waldock, who teaches crash investigation at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Ariz."It is pretty clear the wing broke off in two sections," said Waldock, who read the NTSB preliminary report and observed photographs of the crash scene. "At that point, the airplane lost control, rolled to the right and more likely spiraled into the ground. There was no possibility of controlling it. Once you lose that much wing, there is no way to recover." Using the call sign "Jedi 21," the flight was ordered by the auxiliary field tower to end its flight and return to base because the weather began to deteriorate, according to the report. When Jedi 21 did not respond to a call from the tower to report its two-mile final approach for runway 5, officials there initiated a search and rescue response. Debris from the plane, which was operated by Patriot Technologies Group, was found in a field at 1:18 a.m. the next morning. The report, published on the NTSB website this morning, does not name the people on board. The Highland County Sheriff's Office also has not released the identities of those who died in the crash. The final report will likely take months, according to the NTSB. The process, said Waldock, is laborious. Investigators will consider three main factors, according to Waldock - weather, pilot reaction and the airworthiness of the plane. The storm in the vicinity of the crash site was not likely intense enough to cause structural damage by itself, according to Waldock. "There could be some turbulence activity in the cloud, but it is not as violent as a big storm," he said. Waldock said another major area of investigation will be the condition of the airplane, which according to the NTSB report was built in 1967 for the Air Force. "Fatigue is a big issue in older airplanes, particularly as a converted Air Force 02, it could have done some maneuvering in its lifespan." Investigators will be looking at whether any of the wing parts were fatigued or corroded. They will also be looking at whether the wing assembly received a modification kit to help boost the plane's performance. Earlier this month, the FAA issued a warning, called an airworthiness directive, about a certain modification kit that was added to similar Cessna aircraft. The warning came out in the wake of a February crash in New Jersey, killing five, in which the wing also came off. FAA spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen said investigators are still trying to determine whether the plane that crashed in Avon Park received one of those modification kits. NTSB records show that Cessna 337s like the one that crashed in Avon Park have been involved in 55 accidents since 2000, and that there have been 14 fatal crashes since 2005, including the one in Avon Park. The one in Avon Park and the one in February are the only two that appear to have involved the loss of a wing prior to impact. A Patriot Technologies Group spokesman could not immediately provide information about the plane's maintenance or whether it had the modification kit that spurred the FAA warning. The man behind the controls was an experienced pilot, according to the NTSB. He had single- and multiple-engine landing ratings and an instrument airplane rating. He reported 6,200 civilian flight hours on his Federal Aviation Administration second-class medical certificate application, dated Dec. 29, 2009. A certificated private pilot was in the right cockpit seat. He was assigned duties to support the training exercise, including operating on-board tactical equipment. A certificated commercial pilot was in the rear right seat. He was assigned duties that included operating on-board communications equipment. According to Patriot Technologies Group, the duties of the crew member occupying the right cockpit seat did not include flying the airplane. A weather report from an observatory in Bartow showed a short band of clouds with rain shower activity near the site of the accident. The main wreckage was found next to a retention pond and swamp on a farm pasture. The initial impact crater, measuring 7 feet wide by 9 feet long by 3 feet deep, contained the cockpit instrument panel, forward engine, forward propeller hub, and one blade of the forward propeller. The left and right tail booms, vertical stabilizers and rudders, horizontal stabilizer, elevator, and a section of the left wing were found in the retention pond. The rear engine was resting inverted on the edge of the pond. Two sections of the right wing were found northwest of the main wreckage. A section of the right wing, from the aileron to the wing tip, was found about 800 feet northwest of the impact crater. The aileron remained attached. Another section of the right wing, which included a section of right wing flap, was found about 330 feet northwest of the impact crater. The wreckage was taken to a storage facility in Groveland for more detailed examination.