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Private planes tell no tales; NTSB, FAA must work harder for clues p3

Most plane accidents occur on takeoff or landing. In the case of the small plane crash we have been talking about -- the crash that killed all four Case Western Reserve University students aboard -- the pilot radioed the tower moments after takeoff that the plane was not gaining altitude. Chances are that the National Transportation Safety Board and Federal Aviation Administration investigators will rely in part on what they have learned from all those other accidents to figure out what caused this one.

The NTSB has released its preliminary report, but the report offers no explanations, no "what ifs." Rather, the report relates the control tower's experience with the flight and offers measurements of the crash site. This is the baseline the investigators have to work from.

New information about the reason for the flight has turned up. A friend of one of the men killed apparently received SnapChat pictures of the group on the runway and in the aircraft before takeoff. The victim's messages allegedly refer to fraternity rush activities, and his family is now seeking more information from the fraternity and the university in order to see if the flight was a rush activity.

For the NTSB, according to a spokesman, whether the trip had anything to do with the fraternity is immaterial. The agency will not consider why the four men were on the plane. Unless, that is, the reason for the flight somehow contributed to the crash.

The investigators may well be looking at the pictures, though, for any other hints about what happened. As we said in our last post, the NTSB will be relying on circumstantial evidence for the most part. For example, the pictures could offer clues that there was a weight and balance issue.

According to aviation professionals, there is an unwritten rule that only three adult passengers should be in a four-seat plane like the Cessna that crashed. Safety limits are not based on the number of passengers but on the total weight of passengers, cargo and fuel. Inexperienced pilots may not understand everything that goes into the equation, and an overloaded plane will not perform the way it should -- or the way the pilot expects it to.

We will finish this up in our next post.

Source: Cleveland.com, "Was the plane that crashed in Willoughby Hills overloaded? Things investigators may consider," John Harper, Aug. 26, 2014

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