Mechanical failure cited in fatal plane crash

Friday, November 16, 2012

Investigators for the National Transportation and Safety Bureau (NTSB) have issued preliminary findings in the fatal plane crash on Nov. 4 near Stotts City. Mechanical failure was cited as a factor in the crash that killed plane owner Deryl Edwards, of Joplin, and flight instructor Rick Armstrong.

According to the NTSB report, the plane's right engine had been recently overhauled. The planned flight to a private air strip in Miller on Nov. 4 was the first flight after a new engine had been installed.

A fellow pilot and friend of the crash victims, who identified himself to The Times as Frank Yankoviz, reported the plane had a "soft" main landing gear brake and a nose landing gear strut that was flat. The mechanic hired to overhaul the plane told investigators the repair to the nose gear was delayed until after a planned trip to Ohio for a corrosion inspection.

The pilot decided to fly the plane with an inflated nose strut and with the landing gear extended so that it would not get stuck. The nose gear strut had gone flat prior to leaving the Monett Airport on Nov. 4.

Edwards and Armstrong inspected the plane around 5 p.m. in preparation for their flight. After taxiing the plane and running the engines several times, they found the right engine was "feathering" improperly. The mechanic was called to the airport, worked on the right engine for around five minutes and declared the plane "good to go."

The plane flew around the Monett Airport for more tests. At 4:48 p.m., the mechanic received a call from the plane reporting the right propeller control lever was not moving smoothly. The mechanic went to the Monett Airport and made adjustments that appeared to help the propeller control lever.

With darkness coming, Edwards and Armstrong discussed postponing their flight but chose to proceed to Miller, where they planned to land on an unlighted grass airstrip. The mechanic notified an assistant in Miller at 5:38 p.m. that the plane was en route. The plane was seen approaching shortly thereafter.

Yankoviz had been with Edwards and Armstrong on the ground in Monett and followed in his own plane. Yankoviz reported the plane did not fly on course to the private airstrip in Miller.

Shortly after providing course correction directions, Yankoviz received a radio call from the plane reporting "fuel or oil" coming out of the right engine.

On the ground in Miller, the assistant sighted the plane and said it sounded fine as it circled the airstrip and turned south. He received a call from the plane, asking him to bring a fire extinguisher out to the airplane when it landed, because of the leak discovery. The assistant stood by with the fire extinguisher, but the plane never returned.

No landing was attempted. The plane crew asked Yankoviz where the airstrip was and were told they were over top of it.

The plane instead headed back to Monett. The crew reported shutting down the right engine shortly thereafter.

The plane headed toward Monett at an altitude of approximately 800 to 900 feet. Yankoviz reported flying alongside the right side of the plane and saw no smoke or fire. The plane attempted to gain altitude but could not. The crew asked for directions to the Mt. Vernon Airport four miles away, which had a lighted runway.

As the plane continued to lose altitude, the crew reported they were attempting to land on Interstate 44. Moments later the crew acknowledged over the radio that they were going to crash. With landing lights on, the plane descended into the tree line. The nose pitched up, rolled slightly to the right, pitched forward and erupted in flames.

The plane collided with a stand of tall trees. The post-impact fire consumed most of the cockpit, fuselage, portions of both wings and the tail section. The path of the crash could be followed by impact marks on the trees, which became progressively lower. Both engines were recovered and retained for further investigation, the NSTB report said.

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