The National Transportation Safety Board has issued a preliminary report on a small plane crash in Farmington, Conn., earlier this month that killed two pilots and their two passengers, who were young doctors from Boston with a toddler son.
The report said there were signs that something was going wrong as the plane took off on the morning of Sept. 2 from an airport in Plainville, Conn. The plane crashed shortly afterward into a manufacturing building in neighboring Farmington just north of the airport.
One witness reported that “the airplane was ‘going slower’ than they had seen during previous takeoffs,” the report said.
“When the airplane was about 2/3 down the runway, one witness noted a puff of blue colored smoke from the back side of the airplane,” the report continued. “The other witness stated that the nose landing gear was still on the ground as the airplane passed a taxiway intersection near the mid-point of the runway and he said to a friend with him that something was wrong.”
A third witness, who was beyond the end of the runway, “noted the airplane departed the runway in a level attitude. After clearing the runway, the airplane’s nose pitched up, but the airplane was not climbing.”
“The airplane then impacted a powerline pole, which caused a small explosion near the right engine followed by a shower of softball-size sparks,” the report said. “After hitting the pole, the noise of the engine went from normal sounding to a much more grinding, metallic sound. The airplane then began to oscillate about its pitch and roll axis before the witness lost sight of it behind trees.”
In what may be a crucial clue to what happened, the report said that the “parking brake handle in the cockpit, and the respective valve that it controlled, were both found in the brake set position.”
Bruce “Buck” Rodger, an aviation expert who is the president of Los Angeles-based Aero Consulting Experts, said the parking brake should not have been set if it were a normal takeoff. He noted that skid marks had appeared under the plane as it hurtled down the runway and suggested it was possible the pilots had used the brakes as part of an attempt to abort the takeoff because the “airplane wasn’t meeting its takeoff performance.”
The evidence in the report also suggests that, at some point, a decision was made to take off, after all, he said, adding, “As to why the decisions were made, that’s going to take a lot of investigation.”
Dr. Courtney Haviland, 33, and Dr. William Shrauner, 32, were killed in the crash. Haviland had been a fellow at Massachusetts General Hospital, while Shrauner was a fellow at Boston Medical Center. Pilots William O’Leary, 55, of Bristol, Connecticut., and Mark Morrow, 57, of Danbury, Connecticut swere also killed.
The crash also injured four people on the ground, one of them seriously, the NTSB report said.
The crash happened at 9:51 a.m. on Sept. 2 shortly after takeoff from Robertson Field Airport in Plainville. The plane was headed to Manteo, North Carolina.
The preliminary report did not make a determination on what the cause of the crash was.
Martin Finucane can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.