OWLS HEAD, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- The National Transportation Safety Board released its findings Friday in the Owls Head plane crash that killed three people in November 2012.
The NTSB determined the probable cause of the accident was the vehicle driver's failure to confirm the runway wasn't occupied by an airplane before driving across it. The NTSB said this resulted in the departing airplane striking the vehicle. The pilot continued taking off with a damaged plane, which led to the plane stalling and spinning at a low altitude, said the NTSB.
The crash occurred November 16, 2012 around 4:45 p.m.The Cessna 172 plane clipped the truck, crashed into the woods, and burst into flames. The three victims were all members of Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity at the University of Maine, 22-year-old David Cheney, 24-year-old Marcelo Rugini, and 24-year-old William "B.J." Hannigan III.
The Knox County Sheriff's Office identified the driver of the pickup truck 62-year-old Stephen Turner from Camden. At the time of the crash, he was a licensed pilot and worked out of the Knox County Regional Airport. Officials said Turner had put a plane away in a hanger across from the terminal just before the crash. Knox County Regional Airport officials said this type of action was a daily occurrence.
The NTSB report said the collision of the truck and plane caused the separation of the airplane's right elevator. The elevator is usually at the rear of an aircraft and controls the longitudinal attitude by changing the pitch balance. It also controls the angle of attack and the lift of the wing.The report said Turner said didn't see the airplane until after the collision as it was trying to gain altitude. Witnesses told investigators they saw the airplane drift left of the runway and begin a left turn in air. Witnesses then saw the airplane in "slow flight" and then spin until impact, according to the report.
NTSB investigators examined the vehicle and found impact marks on the left front fender consistent in size and shape with the airplane's right elevator. Investigators also found one light bulb from the vehicle's headlights with a stretched filament. Examination of the the airplane's wingtip light bulbs revealed filaments were stretched. A stretched filament is consistent with the light bulb being on at the time of the collision.
Turner told investigators that he didn't have a yellow beacon on his vehicle, nor was it a requirement. A beacon is a rotating light that flashes. After the accident, the report said the airport began requiring airport beacons to on vehicles and to be operational both day and night while that vehicle operates on the ramp, taxiway, runway or any other areas that an aircraft may operate.
The report said investigators could not determine if the driver or pilot made any announcements over the airport common traffic advisory frequency. There was a handheld radio on the vehicle's dashboard, but it was in the "off" position.
Investigators noted in the report that even though the airplane was approaching or perhaps past liftoff speed, the pilot likely could have stopped the airplane on the remaining 3,600 feet of paved runway. However, the pilot continued with liftoff.
The NTSB has the full report online.