Investigators combed through the wreckage of a single-engine experimental aircraft crash that killed two people Friday morning, trying to uncover if the heavy storms or aircraft played a role.
The RV-9A aircraft registered in Detroit nose-dived into a rain-soaked cornfield about a half mile from Newlove Road and Ohio 41 in Harmony Twp.
Levon G. King, 81, and Gloria D. King, 85, of Dearborn, Mich., were killed in the crash. Levon King appears to have been the former mayor Allen Park, Mich.
The Federal Aviation Administration lost contact with the plane and called the Ohio State Highway Patrol shortly before 11 a.m., troopers said.
Thunderstorms and lightning rolled through the area much of the morning, although it’s not clear what role, if any, weather had in the crash.
Rescuers described the scene as horrific. The heavy vegetation in the field meant rescuers struggled to find the site and reach the victims, said Lt. Brian Aller, of the state patrol’s Springfield Post.
“We looked for a good half hour and we couldn’t find it with all the corn and vegetation,” Aller said.
The state patrol called in its helicopter to locate the wreckage from the air. ATVs were needed to get back to the scene.
Officials from the National Transportation Safety Board didn’t provide details late Friday, including about the plane’s flight plan, and said the FAA was assisting at the scene.
“We’re just gathering information at this time,” said Terry Williams, an NTSB spokesman.
Troopers spoke to witnesses who said they heard unusual noises and watched as the plane began to go down, although they didn’t see it hit the ground.
“They could hear different sounds like the engine sputtering and things like that,”Aller said.
A 9-1-1 caller told dispatchers she was sitting on her front porch and saw the plane dive and heard a bang, but didn’t see smoke.
The RV-9A is a two-seat, single engine aircraft sold in a kit that’s assembled at home. The RV model is one of the most popular experimental aircraft on the market, with more than 8,000 varieties flying worldwide, said Dick Knapinski, a spokesman for the Experimental Aircraft Association.
The basic design has existed for about 40 years, he said, and the plane has a solid air-frame and design.
“In a situation like that, it doesn’t make any difference whether that is an experimental category airplane or a factory-built airplane,” Knapinski said. “It really comes down to the pilot in command and that pilot’s knowledge of the weather, the pilot’s own abilities and what they feel they can handle.”
The NTSB will conduct a thorough investigation of the crash, Knapinski said, which could take months.
Pilots must know both the aircraft and their own capabilities in all conditions, he said, as weather is often a leading cause of accidents for all type of planes.
“The NTSB certainly will take a look at the weather conditions at the time as they investigate but flying into unstable weather is one of the leading causes of general aviation accidents regardless of airplane, whether it’s custom-built of whether it’s factory built,” Knapinski said.
People often think of experimental aircraft as state-of-the-art, he said, but that’s typically not the case. The term is a catch-all phrase that covers everything from experimental military aircraft to vintage planes that are kept in museums and only fly a handful of times a year.
The biggest portion is amateur-built, in which a person or group builds at least 51 percent of the plane. That includes the RV series, which can be bought in a kit. About 30,000 custom-built aircraft in the U.S. are licensed and inspected by the FAA, Knapinski said.
Fewer than 40 fatal crashes involved amateur-built planes last year, he estimated, and that figure has declined in recent years. The number of crashes tied to factory-built aircraft is similar, he said.
“Everybody is interested in safety as the No. 1 priority and were no exception to that,” Knapinski said.
Experimental aircraft pilots are required to receive the same training as those flying factory-built small aircraft, he said. That includes a minimum of 40 hours in the air, as well as an in-flight test with an FAA examiner. Pilots also must receive additional training and pass an inspection at least every two years. The planes themselves must be inspected annually, or for every 100 hours of flight, he said.
“Imagine going back to the DMV every two years and going back through your driver’s test to make sure you haven’t picked up any bad habits,” Knapinski said.
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