Monday, October 27, 2014

Movie might be filmed at Barrow County Airport (KWDR) if ok'd by authority members

The Barrow County Airport Authority will soon decide if they’ll let a movie be filmed at the airport.

The authority discussed last week the latest details they’ve received about a request to shoot the Sony Pictures film. The authority also received an update on the Zaxby’s hangar.

The authority received a letter outlining how the film will be shot.

The latest proposal is to pay the authority $22,500 for 10 days of use of the airport’s facility.

"This has definitely progressed a lot more since the last meeting," Chairman Scott Miller said. "I guess the encouraging thing judging by the time and what they’ve drawn out is that they’re very interested in filming here."

The authority also discussed adding a provision in the contract that would increase the price tag if the crew closes down a runway longer than a set number of hours.

"It would encourage them to stay on schedule," Miller said.

Authority member Keith Oliver said he’s opposed to the movie because he thinks it could get out of hand with the use of the facility.

WK Dickson consultant Phil Eberly said they can meet Federal Aviation Administration regulations by using barricades if the scaffolding comes too close to a taxi lane.

Meanwhile, construction of the Zaxby’s hangar is on schedule to be completed by the end of the year, Eberly reported.

The Athens-based restaurant has signed a 30-year lease that’ll start at $666.67 per month in the first five years and escalate to $1,073.68 in the last five.

The latest work has included removing unsuitable material at the site.

- Source:

Passenger describes security situation on Charlotte-bound flight

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Many questions remain about what caused a security scare Friday on a Charlotte-bound U.S. Airways flight. 
PAST ARTICLE: ‘Security issue’ onboard U.S. Airway flight in Charlotte

When U.S. Airways Flight 744 from Dallas landed in Charlotte Friday, the FBI kept passengers on the plane while agents questioned the crew and nine passengers.

One passenger, Eric Pillmore, said a police officer told him a threatening note had been found on the plane.

Meanwhile, some travelers said they deserve to know more about what that note said.

Pillmore said U.S. Airways Flight 744 from Dallas was about one hour into the flight when the captain made an announcement.

“He said 'We have a small situation, everyone needs to take their seats, put their seat belts on',” Pillmore said.

When the plane landed, Pillmore said Charlotte-Mecklenburg police, FBI agents and customs officials took the flight crew then nine passengers off the plane.

The captain then spoke again.

“At that point, he said this is a very serious situation,” Pillmore said.

Pillmore said a police officer later told him they found a note on the plane.

Eyewitness News anchor Scott Wickersham has been pressing government officials for more information. The FBI will only say it responded to a security concern out of caution.

Channel 9 contacted the airline, airport, the Federal Aviation Administration, the Transportation Security Administration and the Department of Homeland Security. None would comment on the incident.

In situations like this, the FAA can enact the Domestic Events Network -- a nationwide communication system to alert local authorities to air-related emergencies.

But the FAA won't say if it was used in this incident.

Some fliers say they deserve to know more about the incident.

“I would like to know what’s going on,” Shawn Jamison said. “Keeping it away from everybody, that’s not right. We have the right to know.”

Others understand the need for secrecy.

“The more information you give away, the smarter potential terrorists can come,” Trisha Stouffer said.

Pillmore just wants to know if he'll have to go through something like this again.

“I’m just worried. Is this going become a way of life?” Pillmore asked.

In similar situations, fighter jets have been scrambled to escort planes.

- Story and Video:

Helicopters Keep Piasecki Name Flying Through Time

Haverford, Pennsylvania,  Piasecki family keeps 70-year-old Piasecki Aircraft Corporation flying through aircraft industry.

By J.F. Pirro

A man heads out the door on a Saturday for a round of golf. In his garage, he unfolds the rotor blades, stows his clubs in the cockpit of his helicopter, and takes off. After landing to fuel up, he takes off again for his tee time.

Dressed in a pinstripe suit, a homburg and a bow tie, Frank Piasecki is the star of this ingeniously concocted 1943 newsreel segment, dubbed “An Air Flivver in Every Garage.” As recounted in Jay Spenser’s 1998 book, Whirlybirds, Piasecki’s single-seat, single-rotor helicopter became the nation’s second such machine to actually fly as advertised.

In truth, his PV-2 could fit a pilot or a set of golf clubs—not both. That made Piasecki a bit of a fibber, along with being a consummate showman, salesman and storyteller. A pioneer in the vertical-aviation industry, he remained chief executive of Piasecki Aircraft Corporation along the Delaware River in Essington until his death in 2008 at 88.

Today, PiAC is run by two of five Piasecki sons. Among seven children, four have remained in the aerospace industry, furthering their father’s legacy in flight. His widow, Vivian Weyerhaeuser Piasecki, turned 84 in October. The heiress to one of the world’s largest private timberland companies, she still maintains their Haverford home.

Thanks to Vivian’s husband and others with his interests, the Delaware Valley has been a cradle of rotary-wing develop­ment, and it’s certainly no coincidence that the American Helicopter Museum & Education Center is in West Chester, about 20 miles from PiAC headquarters. “Pi,” as he was known, earned 24 patents, perfected the first dynamically balanced rotor and developed the first practical tandem-rotor helicopter. In 1986, President Reagan awarded him the National Medal of Technology and Innovation. He also received the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2005. “I never heard him reflecting on past accomplishments,” says Vivian today. “He was always forward thinking.”

Today, PiAC clients are involved in national defense, medevac transport, oil exploration, rescues, the delivery of humanitarian aid, and more. “The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan would’ve never been able to be fought without helicopters,” says John Piasecki, PiAC’s CEO and president, who now pilots the company with his brother, Fred, its chairman and chief technology officer. “But those wars also pointed out deficiencies—and PiAC is playing a role in that response.”

Since 1986, the Piaseckis have worked out of the same pre-war building. Built in 1939, it’s filled with outdated office furniture and other vestiges of the ’50s. Metal filing cabinets abound. “Historically, Dad didn’t put money into brick and mortar—it went into aircraft,” John says. “But there’s a mistaken idea of innovation. It’s not a locked white room that remains locked until someone screams, ‘Eureka!’ It’s about identifying a problem and creating a solution—and realizing that the solution, no mat­ter how creative, never works the first time.”

In Frank Piasecki’s industry, the key to advancement was a balanced rotor; the size of helicopters was limited without it. He later realized the industry’s biggest lift—literally—would come from the tandem (two-rotor) system. The opposite-direction rotation cancelled the torque that created instability and allowed for the full availability of horsepower to induce upward motion.

Within 13 months of Piasecki’s discovery, his company—then called P-V Engineering Forum—was awarded a defense contract in 1944 to design a helicopter with three times the lift capacity. It was a Navy contract. Initially, the Navy didn’t understand the need for helicopters, so Piasecki appealed to the Coast Guard. It was there, while sitting with the man responsible for rotary-wing design, that Piasecki saw a cartoon in which two boat oars were rotating in opposite directions. “It was essentially a lifeboat that could fly,” says John. “Dad knew he was in friendly waters.”

The Coast Guard went to the Navy, and the latter conceded.“The pressure from Congress notwithstanding,” says John.

A little more than a year later, Piasecki was test-flying the XHRP-X, dubbed the “Dogship” in-house. Following World War II and the slaughter of thousands on foreign beaches, the Navy wanted a copter that could lift 1,800 pounds—the weight of a torpedo—and rescue injured fighters. The helicopter was no longer an aerial sideshow. “If Frank Piasecki is to be known for anything, it’s for taking the curiosity in helicopters and develop­ing them into practical, useful machines,” says John.

By the mid-1950s, longtime competitor Igor Sikorsky—the first to successfully fly a helicopter—was slipping, due to his stubborn refusal to move away from single-rotor designs and tail rudders. Meanwhile, Piasecki continued to advance tandem-rotor machines. “Pi would be the first to tell you how important that was,” John says.

In 1946, gross sales for P-V Engineering Forum totaled almost $1.5 million. Net profit, however, was just $16,413. Once produc­tion began, the number of P-V employees doubled in four years, and back orders totaled $4,769,807.

Sales nearly doubled in 1948. But still, after-tax profits were $65,657. Then came the Korean War. By 1953, $86.7 million in gross profits reaped a $1.2 million net. (All numbers come from Spenser’s book.)

But, for Frank Piasecki, it was never really about the money.

There was no single inventor of the helicopter. It was a collaboration of first-generation rotorcraft pioneers that progressively adapted the autogiro, another invention with local ties. In 1928, Bryn Athyn’s Harold Pitcairn piloted his Cierva C.8, and E. Burke Wilford’s gyroplane was first flown in Paoli in 1931. Col. Robert Leaming Montgomery owned one of the first U.S. autogiros, flying it between his fabled Ardrossan estate in Villanova and the family’s Georgetown, S.C. retreat.

Before World War II, there were some 300 autogiros in existence. But they couldn’t hover or fly vertically—and they were all but extinct by the end of the war.

Philadelphia hosted the first interna­tional Rotary Wing Conference at the Franklin Institute in 1938 and again in 1939, uniting autogiro and helicopter pio­neers. The original minutes from the conference are in a PiAC safe. “Credit Pitcairn,” says John Piasecki. “He planted the seed, then this area became a magnet.”

John’s father had one of four pre-1950 rotorcraft companies, along with Sikorsky, Bell (the work of Paoli’s Arthur Young), and Hiller on the West Coast. Piasecki rallied former college roommates to found P-V Engineering Forum in 1940. All had jobs, so P-V work was confined to eve­nings and weekends. Any product was fair game, but Piasecki’s primary interest was the helicopter—which he saw as the fam­ily car of the future.

The PV-2 was built with adapted auto­mobile and bicycle parts, an outboard motor, even his mother’s clothesline. It was gifted to the Smithsonian Institution in 1965. His pursuit, Piasecki told author Jay Spenser, was “total envelopment, a constant. There was a natural feeling that, if we were successful, somehow the world would repay us.”

On April 11, 1943, four days short of his 24th birthday, an unlicensed Piasecki took the PV-2 up for the first time. He eventually became the first licensed heli­copter operator who wasn’t already an airplane pilot. Painted maroon and silver, his favorite colors, the PV-2 was Piasecki’s auto in the air. It even had a bulb-shaped horn. Later, it was towed on the back of a partner’s Pontiac to Washington, D.C., for its official airport launch on Oct. 20, 1943. “She was a sweetheart,” said Piasecki in a 2010 documentary made by his daugh­ter, Lynn. “She could do anything.”

Apparently, so could he. Always dapper and well dressed, Piasecki had bound­less energy, foresight and confidence—all of which was buoyed by successes like the Navy contract for the XHRP-X, the world’s first transport helicopter. It flew on March 7, 1945.

The XHRP-1—the true Navy pro­totype popularly known as the “Flying Banana”—followed. Then came the HRP-1 in late-summer 1947, the year the company moved from Sharon Hill to a 55-acre site in Morton. At one time, P-V also occupied space in Ardmore.

Piasecki’s signature tandem-rotor designs led to the development of the Marine Corps’ primary assault helicopter, the CH-46 Sea Knight, and the Army’s CH-47 Chinook cargo helicopter—both built by Boeing in Ridley. “The Chinook will be in production for another 50 years,” John predicts.

Desperate for capital following post-WWII military cutbacks, Piasecki brought in Felix du Pont and Laurance Rockefeller, a move that backfired. By Jan. 1, 1953, he was no longer president, and he eventually moved on. “That’s when dad departed,” John says. “He left to do what he loved to do—create.”

Upon leaving in 1955, Piasecki still owned stock in the company he founded. But when he left to form PiAC, so did technical staff. Orders dropped. The com­pany’s value plummeted. Rockefeller and du Pont became anxious for a sale, which Piasecki helped engineer with Boeing in 1960. The company is now the Mobility Division of Boeing Military Aircraft.

rank Nicholas Piasecki was born in Lansdowne, the only child ofPolish immigrants Nikodem Piasecki, a tailor, and his wife,Emilia. He graduated from Over-brook High School, studied mechanical engineering at the University of Pennsylvania’s Towne School, then transferred to the Guggenheim School of Aeronautics at New York University, where he graduated in 1940 with an aero­nautical engineering degree.

What little extra money his parents had went into music lessons, which turned Frank into a concert violinist. He was also a fabulous dancer. One day, his father discovered the model airplanes he’d been building, chopped them up, and demanded a career choice.

His path was already obvious. At 7, his aerial interest soared with a barn­stormer ride. As a 17-year-old member of his high school aero club, he flew in an autogiro with Lou Leavitt, America’s first licensed rotary-wing pilot, in 1936. Later, while working at Platt-LePage Aircraft Company, he predicted a crash that helped save Leavitt’s life.

Piasecki’s first marriage proposal to an aviation experimentalist crashed and burned when he couldn’t get her dad’s approval. Vivian was a blessing. “Mom’s dad was a World War I aviator,” John says.

Vivian’s high-profile philanthropic work stands on its own. She met Piasecki during a wedding party at Washington, D.C.’s exclusive Sulgrave Club, where he cut in on her. “I thought it was a little fast,” she says now.

By night’s end, he still didn’t have her name. “So he couldn’t find me,” she says.

Two years later, he found her in New York. “I’d say he was still brash,” she says. “Confident, yes, but I could tell he was a little nervous, which made him human.”

They married in 1958, having seven children in nine years. The oldest, Lynn, was born in 1961. The youngest, Greg, arrived in 1970. Nicole and Fred, who is 50, were born 11 months apart. John, 47, has a twin brother, Mike. The fifth son is Frank. Each has worked for PiAC, and all are stockholders.

At PiAC, John handles the contracts and the business and strategic plan­ning. Fred is responsible for engineer­ing, fabrication and flight-testing. John and his wife, Gretchen Sprafke, live in Bryn Mawr. Fred and his wife, Cathy, live in Haverford, as does Mike, whose Dragonfly Pictures plays to his dual inter­ests in cameras and helicopters. His small, unmanned 500- to 600-pound helicopters mostly serve the Department of Defense for reconnaissance work. PiAC subleases space to him in Essington.

Though married, Nicole has kept her father’s last name. “The Piasecki name

does have a professional utility to it,” admits John, who was a freshman at Yale University when Nicole, another Yale grad, took a job with Sikorsky. “It was like a Ford going to work for GM.”

Once the president of Boeing Japan, Nicole is now vice president and GM of the Propulsion Systems Division of Boeing Commercial Airplanes in Seattle. Like her father, she’s a pilot.

Influenced by her father’s love of pho­tography, Lynn is a documentary film­maker in New York. Frank, the namesake son, is president of ACTIV Financial, a Wall Street firm. Greg also went to Yale, then the Wharton School. He now leads Weyerhaeuser, the timber company his maternal great-great-grandfather founded.

All the boys attended the Haverford School, though one left for a New England boarding school. The girls attended Agnes Irwin, then boarding school. It’s one dis­agreement Nicole remembers her parents having: Piasecki thought the Main Line’s finest schools were fine enough. Both agreed the children should decide their own career paths. “And they did decide on their own,” Vivian says.

Piasecki was as demanding on his kids as he was on his employees. PiAC was open six days a week. Even the children went to the office on Saturdays. “We grew up with the smell of jet fuel,” Nicole says. “When the offices were at Philadelphia International Airport, we’d sit outside the hangar, waiting to go home, and watch the planes. He was deeply happy (that some of his children continued in aviation). He’d have been happiest if all seven of us had, but he also respected that you should fol­low your own dream.”

Vivian says her husband was intensely focused to a fault. “But he was growing the company, and he had so many ideas,” she says. “He was absorbed in what he was doing. He was a very powerful man, and a good father.”

Once, Piasecki called the Haverford School and asked if his boys (two of them football co-captains) could be excused after school daily to come home and study. “He didn’t want them to partici­pate in other sports, either, but they did,” says Vivian. “He never noticed, of course, because he wasn’t home to notice.”

Nicole’s current position in a diverse career in the commercial airline industry gets her closest to the work her father did. “I miss his wisdom, but I feel like he sits on my shoulder still,” she says. “He’s a force, so I miss everything about him. I miss the ability to call and put a problem in front of him. He always so clearly pro­vided a solution.”

John majored in history at Yale, then changed to philosophy. “I suppose you’re going to open a philosophy shop,” his father quipped.

When Piasecki was in a serious car accident John’s junior year, he joined PiAC after graduation. “Dad asked me to help him,” he says. “Once here, I was astonished at how little innovation was actually going on in the industry. It was moribund. Most were making the same machines over and over. At that rate, technology was never going to make it to the warfighter—and that disturbed me.”

In 1994, Piasecki had a stroke while dining with John. It affected his hands, eyes and legs, though he insisted on walk­ing Nicole and Lynn down the aisle at their weddings. And his mind remained sharp. “After the stroke, he became more of a mentor, and he played that role to the end,” says John. “He died on a Monday. That Friday, he’d called me about an idea he planned to submit to the Army. He was still coming to work every day. But in many ways, he was trapped in his body.”

Vivian says her husband was never more courageous than in the 14 years fol­lowing his stroke. “He was not one to talk about his inner thoughts—or, at least, they weren’t known to me,” she says. “I don’t think he would’ve shared them with anybody—and I can’t explain why.”

PiAC has pioneered numerous, highly innovative rotorcraft designs, including the Path-finder Ring-Tail High-Speed Compound Helicopter, the Sea Bat Unmanned Helicopter Drone, and the AirGeep flying car (a father’s auto vision realized). There have also been a few setbacks, like the Helistat, a heavy-lift hybrid aircraft that crashed during a test flight in 1986, killing one of the four pilots.

Most recently, PiAC has been testing the X-49A SpeedHawk VTDP Compound Helicopter—a modified Black Hawk and a reconfiguration of a 1960s Piasecki design, with both a propeller and wings—and vari­ous unmanned designs for the Department of Defense. Though 90 percent of PiAC’s work is motivated by national defense, “there are commercial spin-offs,” John says. “We occupy a unique niche.”

Right now, there are 50 employees at PiAC, significantly less than the 400 during its Vietnam-era peak. “Small, lean, agile,” says John.

Piasecki’s progeny includes others. Jack Fetsko, now 86, arrived on a Piasecki assembly line in his mid-20s in 1951, and finished his career 18 years later in sales and marketing. Later, he launched his own aviation company.

From his home in Media, Fetsko still works on projects that could, one day, net him a patent or two. “I’m always trying to improve things,” he says. “That’s the way Frank was. He taught me that, if you hit a wall, you go another way.”

These days, it takes 25 years to get an American helicopter into production. That means the X-49A may not arrive until 2025. “We’re our own worst enemy,” John laments.

Meanwhile, the $40 million X-49A project pushed Sikorsky to begin work on its own version, and Europe has developed a kindred prototype. John, for one, is fine with PiAC being a catalyst for innovation and competition. “This is the phenomena I’m after,” he says. “It’s why I stayed—to shatter that quasi-innovation that I first saw. I don’t mind going head-to-head or losing a noble fight. What’s not noble is having a huge corporation sit still and sup­press innovation. I have no regrets. I love the creative process. Innovation is such a precious thing.”

A Piasecki would know.

Story and Photos:

INVESTIGATION: Post-crash fires in small planes cost 600 lives • Federal regulators held back on fixes because it cost too much

Chris Hall was burned in a small plane crash October, 8, 2013. His Beech S35 (N6861) lost power, forcing Hall to land in a field.  Erich Schlegel, USA TODAY

Erik Unhjem lost his wife after a Daher Socata TB10 (N5542Z) crashed in a residential neighborhood in Shirley, New York,  also killing the pilot. (Photo taken: Auguest 25, 2013)

Thomas Frank, USA TODAY

Contributing: Mark Hannan and Allison Wrabel

Interactives and presentation: John Hillkirk, Jerry Mosemak, Kelly Jordan, Mitchell Thorson, Tim Loehrke and Jodi Upton, USA TODAY

Chapter 1

Trapped onboard

4-year-old died while they tried to save him

The fire ignited when the small airplane smashed into a parking lot and empty building in central Anchorage on a failed takeoff. Passersby ran to pull four burning people from the Cessna Skywagon.

But when they tried to rescue 4-year-old Miles Cavner, the airplane cabin was engulfed in fire.

As Stacie Cavner screamed that her son was burning, police officer Will Cameron spotted Miles on the cabin floor. Fire was scorching the boy's body — and keeping Cameron from saving him.

"We tried to go back in for the young boy," Cameron reflected recently on the June 1, 2010, crash, "but at that point it was too much, so we couldn't get to him."

Small-airplane fires have killed at least 600 people since 1993, burning them alive or suffocating them after crashes and hard landings that the passengers and pilots had initially survived, a USA TODAY investigation shows. The victims who died from fatal burns or smoke inhalation often had few if any broken bones or other injuries, according to hundreds of autopsy reports obtained by USA TODAY.

Fires have erupted after incidents as minor as an airplane veering off a runway and into brush or hitting a chain-link fence, government records show. The impact ruptures fuel tanks or fuel lines, or both, causing leaks and airplane-engulfing blazes.

Fires also contributed to the death of at least 308 more people who suffered burns or smoke inhalation as well as traumatic injuries, USA TODAY found. And the fires seriously burned at least 309 people who survived, often with permanent scars after painful surgery.

Fires have been killing and maiming pilots and passengers since the 1920s but, after triggering some attention in the 1980s and early 1990s, have been largely ignored by federal regulators and crash investigators.

In 1990, the Federal Aviation Administration proposed requiring new small airplanes to have equipment and designs that would prevent such fires and save up to 20 lives a year.

But facing opposition from airplane manufacturers, the FAA withdrew its proposal, saying it wasn't worth the extra expense.

The costs, projected at between $556 and $5,710 for each newly made airplane, were deemed too high compared with the dollar value of the lives that would be saved. The FAA, like other agencies proposing new regulations, placed a dollar value on each human life, but selected a value that it acknowledged was low: $1 million.

The FAA would not comment for this story.

The National Transportation Safety Board, which investigates crashes and recommends safety improvements, has criticized the FAA for rejecting the board's fire-prevention recommendations, including a 1980 suggestion to fund the development of fuel systems that resist rupture. The NTSB estimated then that small-airplane fires had killed up to 1,734 people from 1974 through 1977 and that eliminating post-impact fires "could save more than 300 lives a year."

The FAA rejected the 1980 proposal, citing "budget restrictions and other priorities" for research and development.

More recently, the FAA spurned a Canadian safety agency that was pushing for reconsideration of the 1990 safety proposal using up-to-date dollar figures. The Transportation Safety Board of Canada said the FAA had vastly underestimated the value of each human life when it withdrew its 1990 proposal, and that a revised analysis could show the cost benefit of the fire-prevention features.

"The FAA appears not to recognize the risks associated with post-impact fires or the potential to mitigate those risks," the Canadian board wrote last year.

The FAA's reluctance to strengthen fuel systems contrasts with fire-prevention action taken by its sister Department of Transportation agency, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which regulates automobile safety.

NHTSA since 1968 has mandated that cars and trucks leak no more than 1 ounce of fuel per minute after a rear-end crash at 30 mph. NHTSA strengthened the standard in 2004 by requiring the same fuel containment in 50-mph rear-end crashes.

An NHTSA study in June said the new standard reduced post-crash fires by 50% to 60%.

The FAA requires only that small-airplane fuel tanks "retain fuel" and only during landings with retracted or collapsed landing gear. That standard does not address a wide range of collisions and landings that result in fuel leaks, such as wings shearing off.

"The FAA standards are horribly inadequate," said Harry Robertson, who has consulted for the FAA on fire prevention and in the 1960s designed crash-resistant fuel systems for the Army.

Chapter 2

Post-impact fires continue to kill or maim

Yet crash-resistant fuel tanks and fuel lines could save lives

USA TODAY found that post-crash fires have been killing and maiming dozens of people a year for more than two decades. The newspaper obtained thousands of autopsy reports and death certificates of people killed in small airplanes since 1993. Most deaths occurred in private airplanes, which are flown largely by recreational pilots, with 6% involving commercial commuter flights.

Records show 912 deaths in 544 crashes and hard landings that medical examiners and coroners attributed to airplane fires — about 42 a year. That includes 68 children — 27 of them younger than 10.

One-third of the 912 deaths were attributed to both fire and the impact of a crash. Two-thirds — 604 deaths — were attributed exclusively to fire, which suggests those people survived the impact and would be alive if fire had not ignited.

The figures almost certainly understate the fire-related death toll because USA TODAY could not obtain death records in six states, where they are not publicly available, including New York and Alaska, which has more small-airplane deaths than all but three states. In addition, older death records were unavailable in some states and counties, and some jurisdictions did not respond to information requests or refused to release public reports without collecting substantial fees.

The figures also don't include deaths before 1993, including the 1,700-plus that the NTSB said occurred from 1973 through 1977, when small-airplane crashes killed 7,200 people.

Nonetheless, the records obtained by USA TODAY suggest that post-impact fires have killed or contributed to the death of at least 8% of the 11,302 people killed in small-airplane crashes since 1993 and 28% of the 1,117 serious injuries.

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada reached a similar conclusion finding that fire caused 6% of the 3,311 small-airplane deaths in that country from 1976 to 2002.

In the past five months alone, small-airplane fires in the U.S. have caused or contributed to at least 26 deaths, the records obtained by USA TODAY show. That's five more people than were killed over multiple years by the defective ignition switch that led to a massive General Motors recall this year.

The recent deaths include:

• Five people who were burned alive and suffocated by smoke after the May 31 crash of a Gulfstream jet carrying Lewis Katz, an owner of The Philadelphia Inquirer and former New Jersey Nets and New Jersey Devils owner. The crash killed seven in total, but no cause of death has been determined for two people, including Katz.

• Four Case Western Reserve University students who suffered burns and trauma on Aug. 25 when their Cessna Skyhawk hit the ground in Ohio and burst into flames. Lake County Coroner Lynn Smith said it was difficult to determine the extent to which burns or impact injuries were lethal.

• A 67-year-old grandmother who was burned to death on Sept. 2 after the Cessna Cardinal in which she was riding hit trees and then the ground in Montana. The fire also severely burned 11-year-old Rachel Lukasik, who was taken to a burn center in Salt Lake City.

Some fire-related deaths are easily avoided, federal reports have said, by installing commercially available fuel systems that resist rupture after impact.

The FAA itself noted in 1978 that the fuel tanks and fuel lines "would undoubtedly result in the saving of lives which otherwise would be lost in post-crash fires." In 1990, the FAA said, "Improved crash resistance is necessary to prevent thermal deaths and injuries in survivable crashes." In 1994, the FAA began requiring crash-resistant fuel systems in some helicopters to reduce fire-related deaths.

When the agency proposed in 1990 to require such fuel systems on small airplanes, it said 14 to 20 lives a year would be saved.

The proposal would have required fuel tanks that are built into airplane wings to have liners that meet U.S. military standards for resisting rupture and retaining fuel when a wing is cracked or sheared off.

It also targeted leaks from fuel lines running underneath wings by requiring designs that would allow no more than 8 ounces to be spilled at various connecting points. Spilled fuel is easily ignited by engine heat or exhaust, sparks and electrical components. If the regulation had been adopted in 1993, it would affect about 40,000 of the 200,000 private airplanes now in use.

While most of the roughly 2,800 post-crash fires since 1993 began after hard landings or crashes, hundreds began after milder impacts, federal records show. Roughly 170 fires erupted after airplanes veered off runways into brush, ditches, fences, barns, parked cars and wildlife. About 150 fires were triggered by landing gear problems that caused airplanes to skid on a runway or to nose over.

"Those kinds of minor impacts will cause rupturing of fuel cells," said retired Army colonel Dennis Shanahan, former commander of the U.S. Army Aeromedical Research Laboratory. "Adding a crash-worthy fuel tank would help immensely."

Fires often build slowly but become deadly because passengers get stuck trying to escape. "When you're in the back seat of a small plane that crashed, they're hard enough to get out of even in perfect conditions," said Tom Van DeBerg, chief forensic investigator in Greene County, Mo.

Chapter 3

Estimating the value of a human life

At $9.1 million per life, the benefits outweigh the cost

The FAA initially projected that the value of the lives saved would easily outweigh the cost of the requirement, though it acknowledged "a degree of uncertainty" about its projections. Its cost-benefit analysis was based on three estimates:

• How much the new fuel systems would cost

• How many lives they would save

• How much each life was worth

Critics, including airplane manufacturers and Australia's aviation authority, attacked the FAA's projections of costs and effectiveness.

But they accepted the FAA's third assumption, which said each life saved was worth $1 million, a lower value than other government agencies used at the time. The Environmental Protection Agency, for example, placed a $3.3 million value on each life in 1988 when it proposed new ozone protections, according to the EPA.

The $1 million figure was crucial because the less money each life was worth, the easier it was for companies and critics to show that costs would exceed the benefits. The FAA noted in its proposal that "if the value of life were $2 million rather than $1 million, the benefit-to-cost ratio would be twice as great."

Federal departments and agencies were required under a 1981 executive order to propose major regulations only when "the potential benefits to society for the regulation outweigh the potential costs to society."

Benefits were calculated by quantifying items such as health and safety improvements that would result from a regulatory change and placing a dollar value on the improvements. To put a value on preventing a death, agencies used studies that analyzed how much individuals would be willing to pay for small reductions in their chances of dying from a particular hazard.

Federal departments and agencies were free to choose those values on their own. The FAA's $1 million figure was "the minimum statistical value used in government regulatory analysis," the agency acknowledged in its 1990 proposal.

The Australian Civil Aviation Authority, responding to the FAA proposal, did its own calculation of the cost of the fuel systems and said it would be three to five times as much as the benefit.

More than nine years later, after an unusually long period to act on a proposed regulation, the FAA reversed itself, saying it agreed with critics and withdrew the measure.

"The costs of the proposed change are not justified by the potential benefits," the FAA wrote on Dec. 30, 1999, with no further explanation. The FAA said it had done an "extensive economic evaluation," which is not in the public record for its proposal. FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown said she could not find any evaluation.

After revising its cost and benefit assumptions, the FAA reacted differently in 2006 when the Transportation Safety Board of Canada challenged the agency's value of a human life. Noting that the FAA had used a low value in 1990 and that values had increased substantially, the board said that "benefits may be greater and the costs proportionately lower" under a revised cost-benefit analysis.

The FAA declined to do a new cost-benefit analysis, and declined again in 2012 and in 2013, calling the matter closed, according to records of the Canadian board.

But by 2013, the Department of Transportation, which oversees the FAA, had raised its value of a human life to $9.1 million. If the $9.1 million value had been applied to the Australian analysis done in 1990, the benefits would have vastly exceeded the cost.

The FAA's refusal surprised Canadian transportation economist Robin Lindsey, who studied the matter for Canada's safety board.

"It doesn't take a huge effort to do a cost-benefit analysis," Lindsey said in an interview. "You're getting dozens of people killed per year and some fraction of them could be saved if you had a higher (fire-safety) standard."

Chapter 4

A horrible way to die

"The right wing was full of fuel, it was a giant fireball"

Fire deaths can be excruciating — much more painful than trauma-related airplane deaths, which are usually instantaneous.

"When you are being burned, it stimulates your pain fibers as maximally as they can be stimulated. We don't know of anything that stimulates them more," said David Ahrenholz, a burn doctor in Minnesota and president of the American Burn Association.

The heat from a 1,500-degree Fahrenheit fire forces fluid out of a blood vessels and into the tissues, causing massive bodily swelling, low blood pressure and eventually organ failure.

"It wouldn't kill you straightaway. You could survive maybe 24 hours," said Stephen Milner, director of the Johns Hopkins Burn Center in Baltimore.

Jane Unhjem lived for about seven hours with severe burns after the Socata airplane she, her husband and a pilot were in clipped some trees just after takeoff and landed hard in a suburban residential street on Long Island, N.Y.

Erik Unhjem, Jane's husband, heard two explosions as the airplane hit the street and a Dumpster, sending fuel spraying from the wings and igniting him, his wife and pilot David McElroy.

Running out of his house on Aug. 19, 2012, Chris Melendez saw the Unhjems standing in the street burning, with flames shooting 30 feet up from the Socata. "All their clothes were melted to their body," Melendez said.

Melendez and a neighbor tried in vain to contain the blaze with garden hoses and to rescue McElroy, who was still in the airplane. "The fire melted metal. It was over 2,000 degrees, easily," Melendez said.

Both McElroy and Jane Unhjem died of trauma and burns, according to crash records and Erik Unhjem. Fire destroyed the airplane.

Although the fire was intense enough to burn Erik Unhjem over 60% of his body, the crash was mild enough to leave him otherwise unscathed. "I had no scratches, I didn't have any sprains, I didn't have any breaks. I had no internal injuries," Unhjem recalled.

Fire-related inhalation deaths are generally quicker than heat-related deaths, taking a few minutes. Fires soak up enormous amounts of oxygen, leaving little for someone to breathe and causing suffocation. They also emit soot, carbon monoxide and other poisonous gases that can cause asphyxiation.

Yet some people live days and months with burns before dying from an infection that penetrates the bloodstream through damaged skin. Those who survive burns experience excruciating pain.

"It's indescribable," said Chris Hall of Coleman, Texas, who was burned on his head, face, hands and arms last year after his Beechcraft Bonanza exploded during an emergency landing in Brownwood, Texas. "I had a morphine pump, but you can't take enough painkiller."

After his airplane lost power about 800 feet in the air, Hall was forced to land in a field of small mesquite trees and cactus, traveling at about 70 mph.

"As soon as I hit the trees, the airplane exploded. It was bang, boom, instantly. The right wing was full of fuel, it was a giant fireball," Hall said. Smashing a window, Hall crawled out of the airplane. "That's when everything went orange," he said.

Hall was burned over a quarter of his body but said he suffered no other injury.

Airplane fires erupt so suddenly that passengers and pilots sometimes have little chance to escape. Hundreds of NTSB crash reports describe burning airplanes as "a fireball" or as having exploded. NTSB investigation forms include a box labeled "aircraft explosion" for investigators to check.

Hannah Luce was in the back seat of a Cessna 401 with four friends when it was forced to make an emergency landing in a field in eastern Kansas. After a "harsh landing," the Cessna skidded through a field, hit a tree and burst into flames, Luce recalled.

The fire erupted "quicker than lightning, completely unexpected and it headed straight for me," Luce said. She struggled to wedge herself through a door that was ajar, but her shoes melted into the seat and then her legs began burning, filling the cabin with the nauseating stench of burning flesh.

"The smell is worse than the feel," said Luce, who spent months recovering from burns that covered a third of her body.

Many witnesses have described the tragedy of being unable to help rescue people being burned inside an airplane because of the intensity of the flames.

In Anchorage, the 2010 collision that killed 4-year-old Miles Cavner severely burned his mother, father, babysitter and brother, according to court records.

Two-year-old Hudson Cavner was burned so badly on his leg, back and head that he had three toes amputated, lost his right ear and has permanent hair loss, according to court records. His mother had both legs amputated below the knee. Babysitter Rachel Zientek had toes amputated.

Mike McCabe, who works at a car dealership near the crash site, ran to the scene with a fire extinguisher and helped people escape until flames were shooting out of the airplane windows.

"You just couldn't get close enough," McCabe said. "It was too hot."

Story, Photos, Video:

NTSB Identification: ERA12FA514 
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Sunday, August 19, 2012 in Shirley, NY
Probable Cause Approval Date: 08/13/2013
Aircraft: SOCATA TB 10, registration: N5542Z
Injuries: 2 Fatal,1 Serious.

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.

The accident flight was a pre-purchase demonstration of the accident airplane. The buyer intended to examine and photograph the maintenance records then fly the airplane around the airport traffic pattern with the owner. However, the owner insisted that they fly the airplane before reviewing the maintenance records. Upon starting the airplane, the owner announced that he had just been informed by the mechanic of the airplane’s inoperative tachometer but continued to taxi to the runway.

Witnesses who observed the airplane’s departure described the takeoff roll as “slow” and “anemic” and stated that the airplane used almost the entire length of the runway to become airborne. The airplane climbed slowly to treetop height in a nose-high attitude and disappeared from view. Moments later, a large smoke plume appeared out of the trees a short distance beyond the airport boundary.

A witness who was standing on his back porch facing northeast, about 1.5 miles from the airport, said the airplane appeared above the trees at the back border of his property, flying directly toward him, and that the sound of the engine was "really loud." The airplane descended over his backyard and below the height of his one-story house in a 30-degree left bank. The airplane then pitched up, climbed over the house, and struck a tree and a construction dumpster in front of the house, where it burst into flames.

The mechanic stated that the whereabouts of the maintenance records were unknown, but he provided a handwritten list of discrepancies he found and work he performed on the accident airplane, including 3 hours of disassembling and cleaning of the carburetor.

Examination of the wreckage revealed that the mixture control cable was disconnected from the carburetor mixture control arm. The cable displayed a light coating of soot, with no damage or fraying of the cable. The cable grip hardware on the mixture control arm was also undamaged, and the cable grip hole was completely open and unobstructed by the cable grip hardware, indicating that the cable had been removed from the arm and had not been reattached before the flight.

Although the owner and mechanic had represented the airplane to the buyer as airworthy with a completed annual inspection, they knew this was not the case, as the tachometer was inoperative; further, during a test flight 3 days before the accident, the engine would not produce full power. The pilot complained of the lack of engine power to the mechanic, but the mechanic stated he did nothing to troubleshoot the discrepancy because of the inoperative tachometer and further stated that he had not “signed off” the annual inspection in the maintenance records.

The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident to be:
The pilot/owner's operation of the airplane with known deficiencies, and the mechanic's failure to reattach the mixture control cable to the mixture control arm following maintenance of the carburetor.

NTSB Identification: CEN14LA002

14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Tuesday, October 08, 2013 in Brownwood, TX
Aircraft: BEECH S35, registration: N6861Q
Injuries: 1 Serious.

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 may not have traveled in support of this investigation and used data provided by various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.

On October 8, 2013, about 0800 central daylight time, a Beech S35, N6861Q, owned by a private individual and operated by a private pilot impacted trees and terrain 1/2-mile from the approach end of runway 13 at the Brownwood Municipal Airport (BWD), Brownwood, Texas, following a loss of engine power. The private pilot, the sole person on board the airplane, was seriously injured. A post impact fire ensued and the airplane was substantially damaged. The personal flight was being conducted under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 without a flight plan. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed for the flight which had departed Coleman, Texas, and was en route to BWD.

The pilot told a witness that he was on final approach to land when the engine lost power. The pilot attempted to raise the landing gear before the airplane impacted a mesquite tree. The airplane subsequently impacted the ground and slid to a stop.  A fire immediately started consuming most of the airplane’s cabin area.

Weather conditions at the time of the accident were wind out of the south at 2 miles per hour, clear skies, and good visibility.

An initial examination of the wreckage showed one blade of the two-bladed propeller bent aft. The other blade was straight and showed little damage. 

NTSB Identification: CEN12FA290

14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Friday, May 11, 2012 in Chanute, KS
Probable Cause Approval Date: 09/05/2013
Aircraft: CESSNA 401, registration: N9DM
Injuries: 4 Fatal,1 Serious.

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.

While en route to the destination airport, the pilot turned on the cabin heater and, afterward, an unusual smell was detected by the occupants and the ambient air temperature increased. When the pilot turned the heater off, dark smoke entered the cabin and obscured the occupants' vision. The smoke likely interfered with the pilot’s ability to identify a safe landing site. During the subsequent emergency landing attempt to a field, the airplane’s wing contacted the ground and the airplane cartwheeled. Examination of the airplane found several leaks around weld points on the combustion chamber of the heater unit. A review of logbook entries revealed that the heater was documented as inoperative during the most recent annual inspection. Although a work order indicated that maintenance work was completed at a later date, there was no logbook entry that returned the heater to service. There were no entries in the maintenance logbooks that documented any testing of the heater or tracking of the heater's hours of operation. A flight instructor who flew with the pilot previously stated that the pilot used the heater on the accident airplane at least once before the accident flight. The heater’s overheat warning light activated during that flight, and the heater shut down without incident. The flight instructor showed the pilot how to reset the overheat circuit breaker but did not follow up on its status during their instruction. There is no evidence that a mechanic examined the airplane before the accident flight. Regarding the overheat warning light, the airplane flight manual states that the heater “should be thoroughly checked to determine the reason for the malfunction” before the overheat switch is reset. The pilot’s use of the heater on the accident flight suggests that he did not understand its status and risk of its continued use without verifying that it had been thoroughly checked as outlined in the airplane flight manual. A review of applicable airworthiness directives found that, in comparison with similar combustion heater units, there is no calendar time limit that would require periodic inspection of the accident unit. In addition, there is no guidance or instruction to disable the heater such that it could no longer be activated in the airplane if the heater was not airworthy.

The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident to be:

The malfunction of the cabin heater, which resulted in an inflight fire and smoke in the airplane. Contributing to the accident was the pilot’s lack of understanding concerning the status of the airplane's heater system following and earlier overheat event and risk of its continued use. Also contributing were the inadequate inspection criteria for the cabin heater.

NTSB Identification: ANC10FA048
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Tuesday, June 01, 2010 in Anchorage, AK
Probable Cause Approval Date: 03/16/2011
Aircraft: CESSNA U206F, registration: N59352
Injuries: 1 Fatal,4 Serious.

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.

The commercial pilot and four passengers, three of whom were of the pilot's immediate family, were departing in a single-engine airplane on a personal cross-country flight to their lodge. The airplane was loaded with lumber, building materials, groceries, personal luggage, plants, and other items for the lodge. Two witnesses said that just before it took off the airplane was loaded so heavily that its tires looked almost flat.

The pilot reported to the NTSB that shortly after takeoff, at an estimated altitude of 150 feet, he raised the wing flaps from 30 degrees to 20 degrees, and the airplane began to sink. He said he started a slight right turn, but did not recall anything after that. According to multiple witnesses, the airplane was in an exaggerated nose-high, tail-low attitude, and struggling to climb as it approached the accident site. They related that the engine sounded loud, as if operating at full power, before it crashed into a parking lot and an unoccupied building.

A postimpact fire, and cargo in the cabin, slowed rescuers from quickly removing the victims. Four of the occupants survived with serious burns and other injuries; the pilot’s 4-year-old son was killed.

The cargo remaining in the pod and cabin after the fire was weighed, and exemplar weights were used for the burned materials. Using conservative weights, which did not include some burned items like a large container of detergent, the airplane’s total weight was estimated to be at least 658.2 pounds over its allowable gross weight, with a center of gravity significantly beyond the aft-most limit.

Both the aircraft and cargo pod manufacturer state maximum wing flap extension limits for takeoff; the aircraft manufacturer’s pilot operating handbook notes 20 degrees should be the maximum, and the cargo pod manufacturer notes a maximum of 10 degrees. Selecting more flap extension than recommended induces additional aerodynamic drag and adversely affects the airplane’s acceleration and ability to climb.

Federal air regulations require that children 2 years of age or older must be secured with a lap belt. Both of the child passengers, age 2 and 4 years, were not secured with a lap belt and were sitting on the two other passenger’s laps. During the crash sequence, the right front seat passenger was unable to hold onto the 4 year old. The child was pinned by the unsecured cargo and died in the fire.

Postaccident inspections of the airplane disclosed no preaccident mechanical anomalies that would have precluded normal operation.

The excessive overloading of the airplane, coupled with the aft center of gravity and the pilot’s excessive use of flaps, placed the airplane well beyond its operating limitations, and made a successful takeoff highly improbable.

The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident to be:
The pilot’s decision to load the airplane well beyond its allowable weight and center of gravity limits, resulting in a loss of control during the initial climb. Contributing to the severity of the injuries was the pilot’s decision to allow two child passengers to sit on other passenger's laps without restraints, and his failure to properly secure the cargo in the cabin. Also contributing was the pilot's excessive extension of the wing flaps.

Frontier Airlines cancels flights between Trenton-Mercer Airport (KTTN) and Bahamas citing lack of demand

EWING -- Frontier Airlines has canceled plans to start flights next month between Trenton-Mercer Airport and the Bahamas citing a lack of demand, officials said Monday.

Customers who purchased Frontier flights on the new route, which was to begin Nov. 20, are being contacted by the airline and offered refunds, or another flight to a Florida destination, Frontier spokesman Todd Lehmacher said in a email sent to Mercer County officials. Calls to customers started on Saturday, Lehmacher said.

"It is our desire to operate service to Nassau at some point in the future though no specific date is being contemplated at this time," Lehmacher said in the email. "The primary driver for this decision is less than forecast available hotel capacity that is having a material impact on demand for flights."

Frontier also canceled plans to start flights between Washington Dulles International Airport and the Bahamas.

"Aircraft planned for our Nassau service will be reallocated to Trenton-Fort Lauderdale beginning just prior to Christmas and Washington Dulles to Miami when twice weekly service begins on Dec. 21," Lehmacher said. "We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused our valued customers."

Frontier announced the new route to the Bahamas in August and offered one-way fares as low as $79.

Frontier's service to the Bahamas would have the marked the first time in Trenton-Mercer Airport's history offering international service on a commercial airline.

Frontier's domestic destinations from Trenton-Mercer Airport include Atlanta, Charlotte, N.C., Chicago-Midway, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Detroit, Indianapolis, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Nashville, Tenn., Raleigh-Durham, N.C., and St. Louis. The airline also offers a host of direct flights to various Florida airports including Fort Lauderdale, Fort Myers, Orlando, St. Augustine, Tampa and West Palm Beach.

Story and Comments:

Piper PA-23-250 Aztec, N6068Y, Garlam Aviation Co: Accident occurred November 01, 2013 in Caledonia, Minnesota

NTSB Identification: CEN14FA034
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Friday, November 01, 2013 in Caledonia, MN
Probable Cause Approval Date: 11/05/2014
Aircraft: PIPER PA 23-250, registration: N6068Y
Injuries: 3 Fatal, 1 Serious.

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.

The pilot, a pilot-rated passenger seated in the front right seat, and two additional passengers departed on a cross-country flight in a twin-engine airplane. As they neared an airport, about halfway to their final destination airport, the pilot was cleared by an air traffic controller to conduct an instrument approach to the airport; shortly afterward, the pilot cancelled the clearance. There was no further communication with the pilot. The airplane was found about 590 feet northeast of the runway by a resident who happened to notice the wreckage. Examination of the airframe and engines revealed residual fuel was at the site and in both engines' fuel system components. The landing gear and the flaps were in the retracted positions. The examination did not find any abnormalities with the airframe or engines that would have prevented normal operation. The surviving passenger, who had flown with the pilots on numerous occasions, stated that they would typically stop for a break about halfway to their destination airport, but he could not recall any of the accident details.

The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident as follows:
The pilot's loss of control for reasons that could not be determined because the postaccident airplane examination did not reveal any anomalies that would have precluded normal operation.


On November 1, 2013 around 1515 central daylight time (CDT), a Piper Aztec, PA-23-250 airplane, N6068Y, impacted terrain near the Houston County Airport (KCHU), Caledonia, Minnesota. The private rated pilot, a pilot rated passenger, and one passenger were fatally injured; one passenger received serious injuries. The airplane was substantially damaged. The airplane was registered to Garlam Aviation, Troy, Michigan, and operated by a private individual under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 as a cross-country flight. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed and an instrument flight rules (IFR) plan was filed. The flight originated from the Oakland/Troy Airport (KVLL), Troy, Michigan, about 1100 CDT and was en route to KCHU.

There were no reported witnesses to the accident; however, a local resident discovered the airplane wreckage and alerted authorities.

The surviving passenger later reported that his first recollection was wakening up in the hospital. He stated that he could not remember any details surrounding the accident, nor did he recall any comments made to the first responders. In subsequent conversations with the passenger, he still could not recall any details of the accident; however, he did recall events prior to, and shortly after takeoff. He was the first one to arrive at airport, followed afterwards by the others. The pilots conducted a preflight, opened tanks, went under the wing to sample the fuel, and looked at the airplane. The pilot had sandwiches for everyone; he remembered the airplane taxiing out and the run up, and then flying along. He then remembered waking up in the hospital.


The pilot held a private pilot certificate with ratings for airplane single and multiengine land, and instrument-airplane. The pilot held a third class medical certificate that was issued on June 12, 2013, with the restriction, "must wear corrective lenses". At the time of the exam the pilot reported 400 total flight hours and 3 hours in last six months. 

The pilot rated passenger held a private pilot certificate with ratings for airplane single and multiengine land, and instrument-airplane. The pilot held a third class medical certificate that was issued June 15, 2012, with the restriction, "must wear lenses for distant, have glasses for near vision". At the time of the exam the pilot reported 2,150 total flight hours and 10 hours in the previous six months.


The Piper PA-23-250, Aztec, is a twin-engine, low-wing airplane with retractable landing gear, and Hartzell 2-bladed, constant speed, full-feathering propellers. The airplane was powered by two Lycoming IO-540 reciprocating engines. A review of maintenance records revealed the airplane's last annual inspection was on March 12, 2013, with an aircraft time at 4, 768 hrs. The right engine tachometer time read 1,440 hours since overhaul and the left engine tachometer time read 1,108 hours since overhaul.


At 1553, the automated weather observation facility located at the La Crosse Municipal Airport, (KLSE), La Crosse, Wisconsin located about 20 miles northeast of the accident site, reported wind from 320 degrees at 7 knots, visibility 10 miles, a broken ceiling at 3,700 feet, temperature 51 Fahrenheit (F), dew point 38 F, and a barometric pressure of 29.64 inches of mercury.


Prior to departure, the pilot contacted a Flight Service Station (FSS) and received a weather briefing for the route of flight. The pilot then filed an IFR flight plan from KVLL to KCHU, with an en route time of two and a half hours and five and a half hours of fuel on board. According to a review of air traffic control communications, prior to reaching KCHU, the pilot was cleared for the GPS-A approach; the pilot canceled his IFR clearance about 1405. There was no further communication with the pilot, nor any reported distress calls.


Houston County Airport (KCHU) is a public use airport, located about 3 miles south of Caledonia, Minnesota. The airport is unattended and does not have a control tower; pilots are to use the Common Traffic Advisory Frequency (CTAF). The airport features a single asphalt runway 13-31, which is 3,499-foot long and 77 foot wide. The field elevation is 1,179 feet mean sea level (msl). 


The accident site was located about 590 feet northeast of KCHU's runway, in an open soybean field. The wreckage path consisted of several ground scars and airplane pieces which extended approximately 100 feet from the main wreckage on a 260 degree heading. The first impact point was a ground scar which contained remains of a green navigation light lens. From the first impact point, about 24 feet from the green lens fragments, the ground scar contained several cuts; the next major ground scar contained the airplane's nose baggage door and fragmented pieces of windshield. Both wings had extensive damage, and were twisted in an upward position from the wing roots. The airplane's fuel bladders, located in the wings, were compromised, however, a small amount of fuel was found in the tanks. The left engine and engine mount had mostly separated from, but remained next to, the left wing. The right engine had totally separated from the wing and was located about 15 feet to the right of the main wreckage. The ground scars and wreckage were consistent with the airplane's right wing impact, followed by the right engine and fuselage impact. The airplane came to rest in an upright position, turned about 180-degrees, and facing the first impact point. The landing gear and flaps were in the retracted positions. Control continuity was established from the tail control surfaces to the forward section of the fuselage; aileron continuity was established out to the left and right bellcranks; the right aileron bellcrank had impact damage.


The Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota, conducted autopsies on the pilot and pilot rated passenger. The causes of death were determined to be "multiple blunt force injuries".

The FAA Bioaeronautical Sciences Research Laboratory, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, performed toxicology tests on the pilot and pilot rated passenger. These tests were negative for carbon monoxide, ethanol, and tested drugs. 


The wreckage was recovered and examinations of the airplane's engines were conducted. Continuity was established from the front of the crankshaft to the rear gear drive section of each engines, and through their valve trains. The top set of sparkplugs were removed, each engine was rotated by hand; each cylinder produced suction and compression during a thumb test. Both magnetos were removed from each engine; all four rotated freely and produced a spark on each terminal. The engines fuel flow dividers were removed and opened, along with the fuel pumps, and fuel servos. The units contained residual fuel and appeared clear of any contaminants. Both propellers remained attached to their respective engines, and had similar signatures. For identification purposes the propeller blades are referred to as blade A or B. The left engine's propeller blade A appeared straight and absent any polishing or scoring; blade B was bent towards the cambered side, about 12 inches from the hub to about a 45-degree angle. The blade had only minor leading edge polishing near the tip of the blade. The right engine's propeller also had one blade (blade B) bent towards the cambered side, starting about 12 inches from the hub, to about a 45-degree angle. Blade B had only minor leading edge polishing, outboard of the deicing boot. Blade A was relatively straight and absent any scuffs or scoring on the blade.

No abnormalities were found that would have prevented the engines from producing rated power.


The surviving passenger stated that he didn't know why they would be at Caledonia; however, typically they would pick a place about half-way to their destination, to exercise the dogs, use the restroom, and to refuel the airplane. He added that he'd flown with them numerous times, and never observed anything unsafe with the pilots or airplane. The usual routine would be to put the airplane away full of fuel.

Joel Alan Garrett

Dale Edward Garrett

John Paul Bergeron - Birmingham, Michigan

Almost a year after three people were killed in the crash of a twin-engine plane in Caledonia, Minn., the National Transportation Safety Board is not offering many clues why.

The plane was traveling from Troy, Mich., to Houston County airport in Caledonia when it crashed into a field in the middle of the afternoon, a half-mile from the airport.

In its factual report issued today, the NTSB reported that the one man who survived the November 1, 2013 crash doesn’t remember it.

The surviving passenger later reported that his first recollection was wakening up in the hospital. He stated that he could not remember any details surrounding the accident, nor did he recall any comments made to the first responders. In subsequent conversations with the passenger, he still could not recall any details of the accident; however, he did recall events prior to, and shortly after takeoff. He was the first one to arrive at airport, followed afterwards by the others. The pilots conducted a preflight, opened tanks, went under the wing to sample the fuel, and looked at the airplane. The pilot had sandwiches for everyone; he remembered the airplane taxiing out and the run up, and then flying along. He then remembered waking up in the hospital.

Killed in the crash were Joel Alan Garrett, 79, of Troy, Mich.; Dale Edward Garrett, 49, of Berkley, Mich.; and John Paul Bergeron, 50, of Birmingham, Mich.

The NTSB reported examination of the engines showed no problems, the plane had fuel at the time of the crash, and the weather did not present any obvious problem.

The NTSB report said the survivor, Joseph Stevens, 61, of Bloomfield, Michigan, doesn’t know why they would have landed in the Minnesota city.

The surviving passenger stated that he didn’t know why they would be at Caledonia; however, typically they would pick a place about half-way to their destination, to exercise the dogs, use the restroom,and to refuel the airplane. He added that he’d flown with them numerous times, and never observed anything unsafe with the pilots or airplane. The usual routine would be to put the airplane away full of fuel.

There were no eyewitnesses to the crash.

- Source:

Southold, Suffolk County, New York: Helicopter group meets, calls out for public to make voices heard

A new Southold helicopter committee met for the first time Thursday — and wants Southold residents to get involved and make their voices heard.

According to Southold Town Councilman Bob Ghosio, who represented the town board at the meeting, the gathering was well-attended, with around a dozen in attendance.

“The meeting really consisted of reviewing what the concerns are, for example, noise, frequency of public disturbance, and health and safety concerns, a review of existing groups working to bring the message to East Hampton and the FAA that the current flight scheme is unacceptable, and brainstorming about what our committee can do to bring Southold’s message to those who have the power to effect change,” Ghosio said.

The conclusion, Ghosio said, was that the committee “must move to get as many Southolders involved in making their concerns heard.”

Ways to do that, he added, include petitions, which the group will put together, but also by organizing en masse to gather at meetings — a possible protest could be organized, too.

In addition, the group elected Teresa McCaskie as chairperson and Margie Brock as secretary, Ghosio said.

The group also discussed publicity to get the word out over concerns; a subcommittee set up to address communications to the public could be set up, he said.

“All in all, the committee was very committed to the goals Southold set out to help curb the nuisance caused by helicopters going to East Hampton— and discussion was very animated,” Ghosio said.

The next meetings will be held on Thursday, November 13 at 7:00 p.m and Thursday, December 11 at 7:00 p.m.

In early October, with an eye toward addressing helicopter noise that residents say is shattering their bucolic quality of life on the North Fork, Southold Town officially voted to form the first-ever helicopter noise steering committee.

The goal is for the group to help the town board develop strategies and propose solutions for addressing helicopter noise over the North Fork, according to the resolution.

The town board appointed Adam Irving, Margie Brock, Amy Greenberg, Len Greenberg, Janice LoRusso, Margy Pisani, Donald Kirby, and Paula Daniel to the group, with Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell and Ghosio serving as liaisons.

“The town has been actively pursuing all available options to combat helicopter noise and traffic,” Russell said, when announcing formation of the group. “We would like to create a working group to join forces with other East End communities that share our burden.”

Earlier this month, a group of concerned neighbors attended the first-ever helicopter noise organizational meeting at Town Hall, where the goal was to create the civic group, which would coordinate with those on the South Fork to help advocate for change.

Bob Mellafonte, chair of the Sag Harbor Citizen Advisory Committee, attended the meeting, as did Suffolk County Legislator Al Krupski, New York State Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo, Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell, Councilwoman Jill Doherty and Councilman Bob Ghosio.

Mellafonte took the floor first, explaining how his Sag Harbor CAC was run, with a chair, co-chair, and a secretary, and said their meetings are held on the second Friday of the month at the local high school to discuss an array of issues including water quality, development — and helicopter noise.

Russell said the town was looking to create a helicopter council that would meet at Town Hall and have support from the town board, including posting public notices, and press releases.

The supervisor said he’s been getting scores of calls about helicopter noise and would like to tap into that to form a large group, with many members and a plan of action.

“I want hundreds of people to join, sort of like the helicopter version of the North Fork Environmental Council,” Russell said.

All town residents are invited and encouraged to join, Russell said, as well as seasonal residents.

“This is not just a Southold committee, it’s for the North Fork. The more hands the better,” he said. “I envision a steering group that will motivate the membership when need be.”

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