HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — A National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigator was first due to arrive today to begin what could be a year-long investigation into the cause of Wednesday’s fatal plane crash, according to an NTSB spokesperson, but already a few facts are emerging:
- The flight began near Cumberland in western Maryland, according to FlightAware data.
- The pilot reported engine failure, according to an air traffic control recording on LiveATC.net, authenticated by a pilot for a major airline who is also a flight instructor with experience flying single-engine Cessna airplanes similar to the one that crashed.
That pilot, Ross Kaplan, emphasized that only the NTSB can determine the cause of the crash. Still, he said, early observations can help gauge what factors are more likely than others to have caused the crash.
“Looking at where the flight came from, where it ended, when [the pilot] declared the emergency and picture of the airplane on the ground, my first thoughts are fuel starvation,” Kaplan said.
Get traffic alerts from the abc27 mobile app for the latest local delays and road closures
One possible clue? The fact that there was no fire.
“Even the tiniest leak can result in a spark, in a fire,” he said. “When I don’t see a fire from a crash like this, it usually leads me to think that maybe there was no fuel in the plane at the time of the accident.”
Kaplan said the pilot sounded calm as he spoke with controllers. If investigators focus on “fuel starvation” as a possible cause — still just a hypothetical, Kaplan emphasized — they would try to figure out how much might have been in the plane when it took off, based on records from the fuel supplier at the origin airport.
The lack of a fire and thus the well-preserved plane, he added, will likely make the job easier for investigators than would be the case after a fiery crash.
Kaplan said based on the recording, the pilot seemed to be trying to reach Capital City Airport. He said the decision during engine failure of whether to continue trying to reach an airport — versus whether to attempt to land somewhere else — is a difficult one.
Get the latest Pennsylvania politics and election news with abc27 newsletters!
In the U.S., aviation investigations are different from other kinds of investigations — and different from aviation investigations in other countries, which occasionally result in criminal charges.
“It’s important in aviation accident investigations not to assign blame. It’s really a matter of just trying to learn from what happened to make aviation safer in the future,” Kaplan said. “Hopefully the NTSB gets to the bottom of it and makes the community safer as a result, because that’s all you can do after the fact, is learn from it.”
On Friday, the FAA updated their initial accident report, which now says the plane’s passenger died, while the pilot sustained serious injuries. A previous FAA report was corrected after previously misidentifying the crash victim.