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Private planes tell no tales; NTSB, FAA must work harder for clues p4

We are finishing up our discussion of the plane crash that killed four Case Western Reserve University students. The news has been fairly quiet in the past week, following the flurry of stories about text messages and pictures and potential lawsuits.

Unfortunately, the families will not know for a while why the plane went down. The National Transportation Safety Board investigation would have taken months even if more of the plane had survived the fire that killed the four young men. With very little physical evidence to work with, the agency could take a year or longer to come to any conclusions.

As we noted in our last post, though, the NTSB will be looking for evidence that the plane was carrying too much weight. Even if the plane could handle the combined weight of the passengers, cargo and fuel, there may have been a weight distribution problem. Too much weight in the rear of the plane, for example, could force the tail to the ground and cause the plane to stall.

Weather conditions often contribute to a small plane crash. Commercial airliners can fly above the clouds and have more sophisticated instruments to assist the pilots in rain, snow or fog. Small planes cannot escape the weather, and even experienced pilots of small planes can become disoriented in fog. According to the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, almost three out of four plane crashes involving weather are fatal.

There were no obvious weather issues on the night of the CWRU crash, but it was after 10 p.m.; the sun set around 8:00. The pilot may not have had much experience with instrument flying. According to one expert, if the weather is clear a pilot need not be instrument-rated to fly.

The same expert noted that the NTSB is short on resources to conduct in-depth investigations into most small plane crashes. That could mean that there are undetected issues with some popular aircraft. The NTSB, unable to run a thorough analysis, blames the accident on pilot error and moves on to the next investigation.

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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