Friday, December 23, 2016

Piper PA-28-161, N31202: Fatal accident occurred December 23, 2016 near Middlebury State Airport (6B0), Addison County, Vermont

The National Transportation Safety Board traveled to the scene of this accident.

PC AIR VENTURES LTD:   http://registry.faa.govN31202

Aviation Accident Preliminary Report  -  National Transportation Safety Board: 

FAA Flight Standards District Office: PORTLAND, MAINE

NTSB Identification: ERA17FA072
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Friday, December 23, 2016 in Middlebury, VT
Aircraft: PIPER PA28, registration: N31202
Injuries: 1 Fatal.

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 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.

On December 23, 2016, about 1145 eastern standard time, a Piper PA-28-161, N31202, was substantially damaged after it impacted trees and terrain during the initial climb from Middlebury State Airport (6B0), Middlebury, Vermont. The private pilot was fatally injured. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and no flight plan was filed for the local flight. The personal flight was conducted under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91.

According to a witness, the airplane was not flown during the past 2 months. The pilot cleared off snow from the airplane's wings the morning of the flight and preheated the airplane. He then performed a preflight inspection and sumped the fuel tanks. The pilot taxied the airplane to runway 19 and departed. During the initial climb, about 150 feet above ground level (agl), the airplane's wings "wagged," the engine "skipped," and then the engine sound "went back to normal." The airplane continued to climb, it made a slight right turn, and then entered a left turn. When the angle of bank was about 45-degrees, the airplane "stalled," and "rapidly" descended until it struck trees. Another witness stated the engine "sputtered" several times, and that after the airplane struck the ground, a postimpact fire erupted.

According to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) records, the pilot held a private pilot certificate with a rating for airplane single-engine land. The pilot was issued a third-class medical certificate on August 6, 2009, with no limitations. At that time, he reported 750 hours of total flight time, of which 54 hours were within the previous 6 months. In addition, the pilot held an airframe and powerplant certificate with an inspection authorization.

According to FAA records, the four-place airplane was issued an airworthiness certificate on April 10, 1978, and was registered to a corporation. It was equipped with a Lycoming O-320 series, 160-horsepower engine with a Sensenich fixed-pitch propeller. According to airplane maintenance logbooks, an annual inspection was performed on June 16, 2016, at a total time in service of 8,582 hours.

The airplane impacted trees, the ground, and came to rest in an upright position about 300 feet from the departure end of runway 19. The main wreckage was oriented on a 347-degree magnetic heading, the debris path was oriented on a 360-degree magnetic heading, and was approximately 160 feet in length. All major components of the airplane were accounted for at the scene. The fuselage remained intact but was heavily damaged by impact forces and a postimpact fire. Flight control continuity was confirmed from all flight control surfaces to the cockpit through multiple control cable fractures that were consistent with overload. The fuel tanks were breeched; the left fuel tank exhibited thermal damage, and the right fuel tank was heavily impact damaged.

The engine remained attached to the airframe through all but one engine mount and was removed to facilitate further examination. Engine crankshaft continuity was confirmed from the propeller flange to the rear accessory section of the engine. All cylinders remained attached to the crankcase. The rocker box covers were removed and no anomalies were noted with the valve springs and rocker arms. Valvetrain continuity was confirmed when the crankshaft was rotated. The cylinders were examined with a borescope and no anomalies were noted with the cylinders, pistons, and valves. Piston movement and thumb compression was observed on all cylinders. Both magnetos remained attached to the engine. Each were removed, and sparks were observed on all towers, when they were rotated by hand. The top spark plugs were removed and their electrodes were dark gray in color.

The engine driven fuel pump was removed and disassembled. The fuel pumped liquid that was consistent in odor with 100LL aviation fuel when the arm was actuated by hand. No debris was noted in the liquid. There were no anomalies noted with the fuel pump. Fuel was noted in the fuel line to the carburetor. The carburetor box was impact damaged. The carburetor was impact separated from the engine but remained attached through cables. The carburetor was disassembled and no liquid was noted in the fuel bowl. However, the carburetor floats exhibited damage consistent with hydraulic deformation. Debris, similar to the terrain at the accident site, was noted in the carburetor. The carburetor inlet fuel screen was removed and no debris was noted.

The 1135 recorded weather observation at 6B0 included wind from 180 degrees at 11 knots, gusting to 14 knots, visibility 10 statute miles, scattered clouds at 3,200 feet agl, temperature 3 degrees C, dew point -3 degrees C; and an altimeter setting of 30.26 inches of mercury.

Those who may have information that might be relevant to the National Transportation Safety Board investigation may contact them by email, and any friends and family who want to contact investigators about the accident should email

The pilot killed in a December plane crash in Middlebury held an expired medical certificate, which should have kept him grounded, according to a review of public records and federal law.

Pilots are required to have health evaluations, including vision and hearing in order to fly. The examination for Paul D. Bessler, 42, of Crown Point, New York, expired more than two years before the small plane went down Dec. 23, according to Federal Aviation Administration records.

Federal law required Bessler to renew the certification after five years, but an online FAA database shows Bessler received his most recent medical certificate in 2009.

The FAA says medical certificates are necessary “to protect not only those who would exercise the privileges of a pilot certificate but also air travelers and the general public.”

There is no indication a medical issue or pilot error played a role in the crash of the Piper PA28 moments after takeoff from the Middlebury State Airport, according to a preliminary report by the National Transportation Safety Board. The federal agency said the engine of the four-seat, propeller-driven aircraft “sputtered” and “skipped,” then the wings “wagged” before the plane went down after climbing to about 150 feet off the ground.

NTSB investigators drew no conclusion in the preliminary report about what caused the mechanical issues or the crash itself. A final report is pending.

Bessler, who is survived by his wife and daughter, was the only person aboard.

Medical certificates require pilots to meet minimum standards regarding vision, hearing, mental health, balance and equilibrium, cardiovascular issues, neurology (such as the absence of seizure disorders) and other health concerns, according to federal law.

Most pilots must have a pilot’s license and a medical certificate in order to fly — much like drivers need a driver’s license and insurance in order to legally operate a car.

There are three classes of certificates, with more stringent standards for commercial pilots, for instance, than for private pilots of small aircraft. Bessler, as a private pilot, needed a third-class certificate, which is good for five years for pilots younger than 40, and two years for aviators age 40 and older.

Bessler, whose family told the Burlington Free Press after the crash that he grew up with a love of aviation and mechanics, worked as director of maintenance at J&M Aviation, a maintenance facility at the Middlebury airport. His employer has not responded to requests for comment.

Pilots take seriously the requirement to keep medical certificates up to date, said Jim Coon, senior vice president for government affairs for the Frederick, Maryland-based Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association.

“Safety is paramount for general aviation. When you’re a safe and healthy pilot, that’s important,” said Coon, who spoke about aviation requirements generally and not about the Middlebury case. Flying without a valid medical certificate is rare in the industry, he added. “Pilots are very responsible. When they go up in the air, they want to be safe.”

Coon noted that flight remains “one of the safest modes of transportation,” and during the past 12 years in all of general aviation, there were “less than a handful of accidents where the primary cause was medical incapacitation.”

Pilots who are required to have medical certificates can lose their licenses if they are found to lack the proper medical clearance, he said. The FAA says that “individuals required to hold a medical certificate must have it in their personal possession at all times when exercising the privileges for which they are licensed.”

Sport pilots, who fly light aircraft, gliders or hot-air balloons, are the only pilots allowed to fly without a pilot's license or a medical certificate.

The FAA might request to see a license and medical certificate during a spot check of a pilot, Coon said.

Federal aviation medical requirements are changing later this year. Under a rule that goes into effect May 1, pilots who currently must hold third-class medical certificates — private, recreational and student aviators — will be allowed instead to take a medical education class and undergo an examination every four years.

The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association advocated for the change, Coon said, because the new system, which also allows pilots to see their own physicians rather than specialized aviation medical examiners, will be less cumbersome while increasing overall safety.


MIDDLEBURY -   A pilot was killed when his small plane crashed early Friday afternoon near the airport in Middlebury after experiencing equipment issues and trying to return to the airfield.

Paul D. Bessler, 42, of Crown Point, New York, was the only person aboard the aircraft when it went down around midday, Middlebury Police Chief Thomas Hanley said. The pilot's family described him as a lifelong aircraft enthusiast, a U.S. Air Force veteran and a dedicated husband and father.

The plane, a Piper PA28, "crashed on private property shortly after it departed Middlebury State Airport at about noon," Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Jim Peters said in a statement. "The pilot tried to return to the airport after reporting an instrument equipment-related problem."

The FAA is investigating the crash along with local authorities.

Bessler's LinkedIn page says he worked as director of maintenance at J&M Aviation, a maintenance facility at the Middlebury airport. Calls and emails to J&M Aviation went unreturned Friday.

Bessler had worked at the airport for more than a decade, ever since he moved to upstate New York with his wife, said Bessler's mother, Meridy Petricciolli, 62, of Las Vegas. Paul and Keri Bessler had a daughter, Ava, who turned 8 years old this summer, Petricciolli said.

Bessler was fascinated by aviation since childhood, Petricciolli said.

“He always loved mechanics from the time he was 2 or 3 years old and could pick up a wrench,” she told the Burlington Free Press, adding that her son also adored flying. “He loved the exhilaration. He was kind of an adrenaline junky. He liked planes, and he liked motorcycles — anything that went forward.”

Bessler gave up parachuting after his daughter was born because of the danger, Petricciolli added.

An FAA database shows that Bessler was licensed as a private pilot.

Piper PA28s are four-seat, propeller-driven aircraft, according to the company's website.

The Middlebury State Airport is about 5 miles southeast of the center of town, about halfway between Middlebury and Ripton in Addison County. The airport includes a single runway along with multiple hangars and other buildings in open space surrounded by woods.

Petricciolli spoke to the Free Press as she was packing Friday afternoon to travel to Vermont. She was here just a few weeks ago, she said, having spent Thanksgiving with the oldest of her two children and his family. Petricciolli left on Dec. 10, and then Bessler took his daughter skiing for the first time this season.

"They were having such a great, great time," Petricciolli said.

Bessler snapped a photo that day and sent it to his mother.



Friends say he died doing what he loved. Now authorities want to know why a New York pilot crashed near the Middlebury state airport.

Parts of the fuselage remain in the yard where a plane went down Friday. It's just a few hundred feet from the runway. Police say they think the pilot had just taken off when it went down.

The Federal Aviation Administration says the plane was a Piper PA28. It crashed into a yard on Schoolhouse Hill Road that runs parallel to the runway around 11:30 a.m. Witnesses say they heard the plane make some odd noises just before the crash. The FAA says the pilot had tried to return to the airport after reporting an instrument equipment-related problem, but he didn't make it.

"Came down here in the yard behind this residence, clipped the tree and dropped into the yard," said Sgt. Mike Christopher, Middlebury Police Department.

The plane went into some trees before it hit the ground. Some pieces remain in the trees. Once it crashed, it caught fire and witnesses were able to pull the pilot from the plane and perform CPR. He was the only one on board and was taken to Porter Hospital where he was pronounced dead.

WCAX News has confirmed that the pilot has been identified as Paul Bessler of Crown Point, New York. Friends say he leaves behind a wife and young daughter. Now, the FAA and NTSB will work with local and state authorities to reconstruct the crash and determine what happened.

Story, video and photo gallery:

Middlebury, Vermont -- Police say one person is dead following a fiery plane crash in Middlebury.

Police say the plane, a single-engine Piper Warrior, crashed at 45 Schoolhouse Hill Road near the Middlebury State Airport just before noon Friday.

The pilot, whose name is not being released, was treated at the scene for serious injuries, and later transported to Porter Hospital where the pilot died. 

In an email to Local 22 & Local 44 News, the Federal Aviation Administration said the pilot tried to return to the airport after 'reporting an instrument equipment-related problem.'

Police also said witnesses described the plane as having engine problems before crashing into someone’s backyard.

“The aircraft broke up on impact. 

The impact resulted in a fire on the aircraft and a nearby outbuilding on the property,” according to a media statement.

The cause of the crash is under investigation.


Police say a pilot was killed in a small plane crash in Middlebury, Vermont.

The crash happened around noon Friday on Schoolhouse Hill Road near the Middlebury State Airport.

Police say Paul D. Bessler, 42, of of Crown Point, New York, died in the crash.

A Federal Aviation Administration spokesman tells the Burlington Free Press that the pilot tried to return to the airport after reporting an instrument equipment-related problem.

Authorities say he was the only person on the plane when it crashed on private property.

Story and video: 

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