Friday, September 23, 2011

Airshow photo could help solve crash mystery. N688GR, North American T-28C Trojan. Eastern WV Regional Airport/Shepherd Field (KMRB), Martinsburg, West Virginia. Thunder Over the Blue Ridge Airshow

MARTINSBURG - A photograph of the plane that crashed during the Thunder Over the Blue Ridge airshow Saturday will be reviewed by the National Transportation Safety Board after a local pilot who studied the picture noticed an issue with the aircraft's wing.

Dave Cooper, a Trooper 5 pilot with the Maryland State Police, contacted The Journal after studying photographs taken at the airshow by The Journal's Ron Agnir.

Cooper is familiar with T-28 aircraft like the one that crashed during the airshow, since he has around 80 hours of operating experience with the same type of aircraft. In the photograph, Cooper noticed the plane that crashed appeared to have a panel open on the right wing.

"Sometimes they have inspection panels that you can look in, and it's only opened for maintenance. Basically you pop those open, do your maintenance and then you pop them back up," Cooper said.

He said he has flown enough to know that sometimes the maintenance panel is accidentally left open. If that happens, he said it makes a difference in how the aircraft responds.

"It does make a big effect on the elevator's control," Cooper explained.

Pilot John "Flash" Mangan, 54, of Concord, N.C., died Saturday after the 1950s-era North American T-28 C he was piloting, which was traveling at speeds in excess of 250 mph, crashed into the ground nine minutes into a planned 15-minute performance of the Trojan Horse T-28 demonstration team.

Cooper's main concern was not guessing about the cause of the crash, but making sure the photo was passed on to the official investigation. Agnir's photograph will be sent to Peter Knudson, a public affairs officer for the National Transportation Safety Board, and will be reviewed as part of the investigation.

Knudson welcomed the photograph and Cooper's information but cautioned against speculation, as the cause of the crash is still unknown. He said there will be no official determination of the accident's cause until the final report is filled out by the NTSB in six to nine months.

Cooper attended the airshow and wanted to talk to the pilots about their aircraft but did not get a chance to do so.

The show was hosted by the West Virginia Air National Guard's 167th Airlift Wing and the Eastern West Virginia Regional Airport Authority.

So far in 2011, the NTSB said there have been 10 airshow accidents, resulting in 14 fatalities, 53 serious injuries and two minor injuries total.

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