Report details plane's mechanical problems before fatal crash in Wheeling
A single-engine plane that crashed in a Wheeling parking lot last winter, killing a passenger and seriously injuring its pilot, had several mechanical issues in the months leading up to the fatal accident, according to a new report released by the National Transportation Safety Board.
The 1978 Beech C24R plane lost power Dec. 22, 2010, shortly after takeoff from Chicago Executive Airport and crashed in the parking lot of the Acco building near Wolf and Hintz roads.
Killed was the plane's only passenger, Benjamin VanHyning, 18, of Jacksonville, Ill., and critically injured was pilot Todd Cole, then 36, also of Jacksonville.
Cole was flying the plane to its new owner, attorney G. Ronald Kesinger, in Jacksonville, with an en route stop at Schaumburg Regional Airport.
The report does not blame the mechanical problems for the crash, nor does it issue any definitive findings about the cause. The NTSB is expected to release a report by June further detailing investigators' conclusions.
According to the factual report issued this month, Cole noted in a written statement that takeoff initially was normal but the engine began to lose power at an altitude between 200 and 300 feet.
Cole told investigators the plane began to sink, and as he turned around to return to the airport, he began to feel the engine vibrate. The plane hit the roof of the two-story Acco building before crashing into several unoccupied vehicles in the parking lot and catching fire.
The report states Cole initially was unable to get the engine started before takeoff that afternoon. Even after it was started with the help of a mechanic, a witness told NTSB investigators the engine did not sound right and that he heard what sounded like "burbles."
The mechanic, however, said when he noticed Cole was having trouble starting the engine, he instructed him how to start a fuel-injected engine that was already hot and didn't hear anything wrong with the way the engine sounded, the report states.
Some of the aircraft maintenance records on board the plane were ruined by fire damage, but legible logbook records showed that the last annual engine inspection was completed Oct. 29, 2010.
Beforehand, the airplane had been operated by Chicago Executive Flight School.
The board's report states that according to a mechanic at the school, a new propeller had been installed before the crash. After being flown 25 to 50 hours, metal shavings were found in the engine oil, so the engine was sent out for an overhaul.
According to the report, there were still "problems with the induction system, the starter and other 'discrepancies'" after the overhaul. The mechanic said he continued to work on the plane and believed all the issues were resolved.
The report states the owner of the flight school added that when the school received the overhauled engine, mechanics were unable to start it. They discovered the wrong starter had been returned with the engine, so they installed the correct one. Still, the engine was running rough, according to the report.
The owner said they then discovered a plug was missing from the bottom of the engine. They installed the plug and did several engine runs and a one-hour flight. According to report, the owner said by the end of October or early November "the issues were resolved and the engine was in good running condition."
The airplane then sat out on the ramp for a least one month before the crash.
A worker who fueled the plane before the crash stated he did not notice any ice, frost or snow on the airplane, or any standing water around its fuel caps.
The report says Cole said he cleared snow off the plane on the day of the crash while a mechanic installed a battery. He then taxied the plane to the fixed base operator to have it de-iced and fueled, and when he performed an engine run-up on the ramp, the plane operated normally.