Report: Flight transponder wasn't working in fatal Burlington plane crash
BURLINGTON, Jan 31, 2013 (News & Record - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
It is unclear whether air traffic controllers were able to track the plane that crashed earlier this month, in which a pilot died.
According to a preliminary report issued today by the National Transportation Safety Board, a piece of equipment that allows air traffic controllers to track the plane wasn't working. The single-engine turboprop airplane crashed into a softball field Jan. 16 at North Park on Sharpe Road. The pilot, David Gamble, 57, of Greensboro, was the only person on board.
The plane's transponder was not working when Gamble took off, said Jay Neylon, the air safety investigator investigating the crash for the NTSB.
The normal procedure is to reset the transponder, something air traffic control asked Gamble to do.
"We don't know at this point if it did reset," Neylon said. "We're looking over that information."
The communication about the transponder is the last air traffic controllers heard from Gamble, Neylon said.
The Pilatus PC-12 plane Gamble piloted was owned by Laboratory Corporation of America (LabCorp). It took off from Burlington-Alamance Regional Airport, at 5:53 a.m. and crashed four minutes later, according to the preliminary report.
According to the report and the Burlington Police Department, the aircraft was transporting medical specimens. Contacted today, Assistant Police Chief Chris Verdeck said the specimens were not hazardous.
Neylon said he could not confirm witness reports that the pilot chose to crash in the ball field to avoid hitting houses.
"We really don't know what was going on in the cockpit because there was no recording device," he said. "Communication was routine up until we lost communication with him."
The plane left a three-foot crater in the ground from the impact, as well as a trail of debris nearly 800 feet long and 300 feet wide. Inside the crater were parts of the wings, two propeller blades, the piece that mounts the propellers and the gear box, according to the report. The engine was found 100 feet away. Two other propeller blades were another 200 and 400 feet away from the point of impact.
Neylon said it is too early to release a possible cause for the crash.
"We're still in the preliminary stages of collecting information and trying to look at what might have occurred."
A more detailed report will be released in six months, which will include an examination of devices taken from the wreckage. Small planes do not contain the black boxes that commercial airlines have in their cockpits.
"We will also look at GPS, if he had one, along with air traffic control tapes and audio," Neylon said.
Visibility was 10 miles, according to Neylon's report. The wind was 4 knots, which is about 4.6 mph.
Gamble was an experience pilot, with more than 6,200 hours in the air.
Contact Sarah Newell Williamson at 373-7076 and follow @snewell on Twitter.
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