NTSB: Cause of Pender County plane crash undetermined

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Investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board will continue to look into the cause of a Pender County plane crash off site. Photos by Christina Haley.
Crews haul away wreckage from a single-engine plane crash in Pender County. Photos by Christina Haley.

Wreckage from a plane crash that killed a man on Sunday was removed from the scene in Pender County on Tuesday as the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) continues its ongoing investigation.

The single-engine private plane was found at about 1:30 a.m. Monday in a wooded area off Traders Neck Road about a mile south of Topsail Airpark, where the plane took off at 3:30 p.m. Sunday, according to Pender County Emergency Management Director Tom Collins. The plane was reported missing at about 7 p.m. Sunday.

Read related story: Man dies in single-engine plane crash in Pender County

The pilot–89-year-old Dillard Powell–was found dead at the crash scene, according to NTSB investigator Todd Gunther.

“Our condolences to the friends and family of the victim in this tragic accident,” Gunther said during a news conference in Surf City on Tuesday.

The plane–a two seat, low-wing PiperSport aircraft–was due to arrive at Albert J. Ellis Airport in Jacksonville about 45 minutes after takeoff, Gunther said.

“Sometime after departure during initial climb, there was a loss of control of the aircraft due to undetermined reasons at this point. The aircraft then impacted trees and then impacted terrain,” Gunther said.

The plane came to rest in a crater formed from impact, with some parts underground, Gunther said.

While discussing the preliminary findings of the investigation, Gunther said there were no signs of any in-flight structural failure of the airplane, an in-flight fire or any type of explosion. Investigators also confirmed Tuesday that all systems on the aircraft that are used to control its flight path were “correct and connected,” Gunther said.

“So we know that the aircraft was functioning normally,” Gunther said.

Approximately a week ago, the plane was brought into the airport for an annual inspection.

“The aircraft was inspected and had just completed that inspection process prior to the accident flight. And that’s something else we will be looking for,” Gunther said.

NTSB investigators are currently conducting witness interviews and will be looking into the physical condition of the pilot. Investigators have also removed the engine from aircraft and are currently in the process of examining the engine and the engine’s fuel state.

“One of the things that we look at during all the investigations at the NTSB is we look at what’s known as ‘the man, machine and environmental interface.’ So we look at the pilot, we look at the aircraft and we also look at the weather conditions that could affect it. The pilot is considered part of that system because it is the operator of the vehicle,” Gunther said.

The investigation is still in the field phase, which includes spending four to seven days examining the aircraft, the surrounding terrain and weather, Gunther said. The NTSB will issue a preliminary report containing the facts, conditions and circumstances surrounding the wreck, which is subject to change pending the final report that will be issued in the next nine months to a year.

“As we go forward, this process does take a little bit of time because the information that we use at the recommendations of the safety board are used to improve aviation safety and so we look at it very strongly,” Gunther said. “And we look at them for a long period of time before we actually issue recommendations.”

The plane wreckage will be taken to a secure facility in Atlanta.

The plane wreckage will be held in a secure location in Atlanta, Georgia.
The plane wreckage will be held in a secure location in Atlanta, Georgia.