Sunday, December 18, 2016

Remembering the Christmas Eve plane crash of 1987: Cessna 150H, N7005S, fatal accident occurred December 24, 1987 in Destin, Okaloosa County, Florida





It was Christmas Eve in 1987 - nearly 30 years ago - when Timothy Warren Butler and Deanna Atkins were flying home for the holidays. Warren, 39 at the time, was the pilot and Atkins, who was 31, was the passenger.

There was fog in the area, but otherwise the skies were clear. Until they weren't.

Butler had been circling while waiting to land at the Destin Airport when, all of a sudden, a dense fog rolled in.

"The fog just came in so damned fast," he told reporters about a month after the crash. "It was clear - then there was fog. You know what it was like? It was like when you go to a bakery and they're rolling out dough. It was thick and it rolled in like that."

Unable to see, Butler slammed the plane into the 19th floor of Hidden Dunes Resort tower. Atkins, mother of a three-year-old boy, died at the scene. Butler was seriously injured but survived.

When rescue crews arrived to Unit 1901 after the crash, they found the plane lodged into the corner unit, its tail and wings dangling precariously in the air and part of its fuselage and landing gear lodged in the condo wall.

"The call came in as a fire alarm," Chief Larry Berg of the South Walton Fire Department recalled to a reporter in 1992. "We didn't know there was a plane hanging there. Originally we thought it was a false alarm, but people in the elevator were telling us there was a plane."

In 1992, five years after the crash, Walton County Sheriff's Lt. Bill Fowler recalled what he saw when he arrived to the scene.

"I pulled up next to the building and still couldn't see anything," he told a reporter. "As the fog cleared I could see what had happened. I could see a body hanging out."

The body belonged to Atkins. Butler survived by crawling out of the plane dazed and being pulled into an 18th story window by rescuers.

Ray Johnson, a former pastor at Village Baptist Church and a sports photographer in Destin, heard about the plane crash and went to the scene immediately. He hung out of a window adjacent to the plane crash and snapped the now-iconic photo of the plane hanging off of the building.

"(My wife and I) stood downstairs in the parking lot, and there was somebody in the airplane yelling 'help me,'" Johnson recalled Thursday over the phone from his home in Blue Ridge, Georgia. "After a while, they got him out. it seemed like the lady had already passed away. They tied the airplane to the building cause they didn't want it to fall off. They tied it around the landing gear into the windows.

"I just tried to do what i needed to do," he added. "It was sad to me, especially since the guy (Butler) was still yelling 'help me' when we first got there. I was anxious for them to take care of them. I remember it was very foggy and when we first rode in from the road, you couldn't really see the building. It was only when we got up close to it could you see the plane."

A National Transportation Safety Board investigation later found Butler to be at fault for the crash, having planned poorly by not accounting for the fog that was in the area and not being rated to fly in conditions that required instruments to navigate.

Butler, who was believed to still be living in Milton in 2012, could not be reached for comment.

Story and photos:  http://www.nwfdailynews.com




Aviation Accident Final Report - National Transportation Safety Board: http://app.ntsb.gov/pdf

NTSB Identification: MIA88FA071
The docket is stored on NTSB microfiche number 35640.
Accident occurred Thursday, December 24, 1987 in DESTIN, FL
Probable Cause Approval Date: 02/24/1989
Aircraft: CESSNA 150H, registration: N7005S
Injuries: 1 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.

WITNESSES STATED THAT THEY OBSERVED THE ACFT FLYING IN THE FOG IN A SOUTHEASTERLY DIRECTION AND TURN HARD RIGHT JUST BEFORE IT STRUCK THE 19TH FLOOR OF A CONDOMINIUM. THE FOG ACCORDING TO RESIDENTS OF THE BLDG WAS SO THICK THAT THE GROUND COULD NOT BE SEEN FROM THE TOP FLOORS.

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

VFR FLIGHT INTO IMC..CONTINUED..PILOT IN COMMAND 

Contributing Factors:
IN-FLIGHT PLANNING/DECISION..POOR..PILOT IN COMMAND 
WEATHER CONDITION..FOG 

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