NTSB Says Plane’s Owner Disregarded Warnings About Fuel
JENKINSBURG, Ga. (AP) _ The owner disregarded a warning to fix his plane’s fuel system three days before the craft, possibly overloaded with 16 skydivers, crashed shortly after takeoff, killing everyone aboard, a federal investigator says.
Real estate developer David Lee Williams, 35, of Atlanta, had been warned Thursday that the fuel in his Cessna 208 Caravan was bypassing the fuel filter and appeared to be contaminated, National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Jim Burnett said Monday.
Mechanics for an air freight company that had wanted to use the aircraft placed a notice on the plane advising that it not be flown and told Williams to purge the fuel system, he said. Williams ″looked at the fuel and pronounced it to be all right,″ and flew the plane out of Fulton County Airport, Burnett said.
Williams gave his destination as another airport in the Atlanta suburbs, Peachtree DeKalb Airport, but Burnett said Williams’ next known location is the West Wind Sport Parachute Center, where the plane crashed on its nose and back moments after takeoff Sunday, killing all 17 on board.
Burnett said the NTSB also is investigating whether the plane was overloaded when it crashed and reports it was involved in two other accidents this year.
″There is contamination in the (fuel) tank right now,″ Burnett said at a news conference a few yards from the wreckage. He said investigators were still looking for the source of the black contaminant in the plane’s right fuel tank.
The plane’s load limit for its flight Sunday was 3,115 pounds, Burnett said. Investigators have not determined actual weights, but the parachute center estimated each parachutist carrying equipment would weigh 200 pounds, a total of 3,200 pounds.
Burnett said the plane received major damage in an accident earlier this year, possibly in Wisconsin, that was not reported to the NTSB because Williams said it was sitting on the ground when wind toppled a tree on it.
But investigators have learned of an article in a parachuting magazine that said the plane was airborne and crashed into trees.
The plane also reportedly suffered wing damage this year in an accident in New York, Burnett said. He said Cessna notified Williams in August that repairs had to be made to make the wings airworthy, but the plane was flown for another 46 hours before the work was done.
The fuel contamination had been reported to a Federal Aviation Administration inspector, Burnett said. The inspector scrubbed a planned certification flight, but ″as far as I can determine, no further action was taken by the FAA,″ he said.
″The FAA inspector did not have a form″ that he could have placed on the plane, grounding it until the problem was corrected, he said.
Burnett said he was told that the FAA inspector assumed the plane would not be flown because of the warning by mechanics for Midnight Express, the air freight company.
FAA spokesman Jack Barker said an oral warning is considered a grounding. Flying a plane without making recommended repairs would violate FAA regulations and could bring a fine of as much as $1,000, he said.
NTSB officials said it will be months before the agency decides on the cause of the crash.
Preston Hicks, an NTSB investigator who examined the crash site, said the plane made a normal takeoff from the parachute center and apparently was in the air only a few seconds before it crashed less than a mile away. Witnesses said the plane appeared to have trouble gaining altitude and then began rolling.
In addition to Williams, 35, the crash victims included Jeff Saunders, 33, of Locust Grove, owner of the parachute center; and Steven Wilson, 35, of Atlanta, the pilot.
The group had planned to jump in formation from 12,000 feet and land in a large field in front of the parachute center, said Bill Scott, safety and training adviser at West Wind.