The National Transportation Safety Board released an update Wednesday to the fiery plane crash in Thomson last year that killed five members of the Vein Guys staff.
The board’s factual report stated, as previously reported, that the Beechcraft 390 Premier carrying two pilots and five passengers crashed Feb. 20 at Thomson-McDuffie County Airport after pilots aborted a landing, and the plane collided with a 72-foot-tall utility pole and crashed in the woods.
The report, however, found the Thomson airport failed in 2010 and 2012 to meet federal requirements for precision and obstruction-free approaches, as trees and a power line were listed as obstructions for two runways. The Federal Aviation Administration also said it had no knowledge of the Georgia Power utility pole struck by the plane until after the crash.
The FAA requires notification of any structure that is newly built or altered, and may affect the national airspace system. The concrete pole, built in 1989, provided power to the Milliken & Co. textile plant, adjacent to the airport.
The NTSB report stated that after the accident, Georgia Power submitted forms to the FAA for four utility poles east of the airport, which included the one that was struck in the plane crash. In its initial findings issued May 31, 2013, the FAA stated the structure exceeded the obstruction standards and “would have an adverse physical or electromagnetic interference effect upon navigable airspace or air navigation facilities.”
Although the FAA has not completed a final determination on the tower, the preliminary findings show the utility structure was a presumed hazard to air navigation and that an adequate height for the tower would have been 46 feet or lower.
The utility pole has been a point of contention in civil suits filed in Fulton County Superior Court by the families of those killed in the crash. In addition to Vein Guys co-owner Dr. Steven Roth, Kim Davidson, Heidi McCorkle, Tiffany Porter and Lisa Volpitto died of blunt force injuries sustained in the wrecked plane. The plane’s pilot, Richard Trammell, and co-pilot, Jeremy Hayden, sustained serious injuries but survived.
Several parties, including the airport’s operators, the city of Thomson, McDuffie County and Roth’s estate, are named as defendants. Others being sued include Georgia Power and parent company Southern Company Services; Milliken & Co., owner of the Kingsley Plant at the end of the runway that had granted easement for the power pole; and The Sky’s The Limit doing business as Executive Shuttle, which was owned by Trammell and employed both pilots.
A copy of one lawsuit alleged the pole was too tall and inappropriately lit and that the transmission lines were too high. The suit also states that allowing trees to be planted in the airport’s “safe zone” was negligent, and it found fault in the proper maintenance and service of the privately-owned plane.
In addition, The Pavilion Group, Roth and the two pilots are blamed for having enabled “impaired,” “unqualified,” or “inadequately trained pilots” to operate the plane. Trammell and Hayden have also filed suit in Fulton County against the city of Thomson, McDuffie County, Georgia Power and Milliken & Co.
Also in the NTSB report released Wednesday, the co-pilot, Hayden, said after the aircraft’s landing gear was lowered, an “anti skid fail” light flashed on. The plane touched down on the runway, he said, before Trammell announced a “go-around” and ascended back into the air. Hayden said he did not know the reason for the go-around.
In Trammell’s post-accident interview, the pilot said the last thing he remembered before waking up in the hospital four days later was checking the plane’s landing light switches in preparation to land. He said he couldn’t recall anything about the approach, landing or any anti-skid problems during the flight.
Minutes before the crash, Hayden is reported as alerting Trammell to adjust his altimeter.
“I’m kinda out of the loop or something,” the pilot (Trammell) is quoted as saying in the report. “I don’t know what happened to me there, but I appreciate you lookin’ after me there.”
Both pilots were tested for drugs and alcohol, and toxicology results came back negative.
A final report, which will detail the probable cause of the crash, will be completed in the “near future,” said Terry Williams, spokesman for the National Transportation Safety Board.
“It’s not unusual for our investigations to take more than a year, although we do try to wrap them up around the anniversary of a particular accident,” Williams said. “But, there are many factors that may delay it.”
Williams said while he is uncertain of the reason in this specific case, some investigations take longer to gather information. The staff’s workload also can lead to a lengthier probe, he said.