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NTSB Releases Crash Report

Apr 16, 2003 | Fitchburg Sentinel Witnesses to the deadly April 4 plane crash here say the twin-engine Beechcraft was flying "extremely slow" and making a turn "so sharp that the wings were vertical," before it finally slammed into a building on Nashua Street.

Although the preliminary report released Tuesday by The National Transportation Safety Board does not offer a cause for the crash that killed six people, it does include statements from 13-year-old Tora Fisher, the only person to survive the crash.

Up in the air, "everything seemed fine" during the flight, Tora Fisher told the NTSB investigators.

She said the plane was about to land when she felt it turn left, at which time the plane became "almost completely upside-down."

The plane then straightened before banking again at the same severe angle, she reported.

It then leveled out for a second, before diving "straight down" into the D-E Corp. building on Nashua Street.

Tora Fisher also told the NTSB the plane's engines operated "normally" during the flight and she didn't hear any unusual sounds.

She also said she did not see the ground during the time the pilot was performing the series of turns but did see it "just a split second before the impact."

In addition, she also said the steep turns did not concern her because she had flown with the pilot before and knew he "liked to make sharp turns."

Killed in the crash were Tora Fisher's father, M. Anthony Fisher, 52, and his wife, Anne Fisher, of New York City; the two pilots, Robert A. Monaco, 49, of Lexington, and Eric Jacobson, 30, of Peabody; Michael Campanelli, 36, of Brooklyn; and Thomas Fox, 50, of New York.

Based on the witness accounts and other information contained in the report, some local pilots speculated the combination of too slow a speed, as well as excessively steep turns, contributed to the crash.

"What would appear most likely," said Richard Bullock, owner of Bullock Charter Inc. of Princeton, "is that the pilot, for whatever reason, didn't keep up enough air speed."

One witness, who worked at the airport, said in the report the Beechcraft King Air B-200 approached the airport directly over runway 14, "going in and out of low, scattered clouds."

The witness said he expected the airplane "to go missed" (gain altitude and try another approach).

Instead, the plane made a slight left turn, then "a steep left base-to-final turn, 90-degrees wings up," before disappearing below the tree line.

This coincided with other witness testimonies, which described the airplane as making a turn "so sharp that the wings were vertical" before entering into a "nosedive."

Both Bullock and Bill Deblois, co-owner of the FCA Flight Center at the Fitchburg Municipal Airport, said Tuesday sharp banking movements, like those described by the witnesses in the report, could have exacerbated an already dangerous situation if the plane was flying "extremely slow."

"The more you turn a plane, the harder you bank it, the higher the speed you need," Deblois said.

If the airplane didn't have enough speed when making that final turn, it may have gone into a "wing stall," which could have accounted for the nosedive.

Add in weather-related factors like low clouds and possible icing conditions, and there could have been several factors that accounted for the crash, Deblois said.

He also conjectured if a witness saw the airplane go in and out of scattered clouds and fly directly over the field, it's possible the pilot may have simply "missed the airport."

If that was the case, Deblois said, the pilot could have either gained altitude and tried another approach, or flown to another airport.

Bullock said while it is too early in the investigation to rule anything out or in, that the one survivor of the flight failed to notice any problems with the airplane seems to eliminate engine failure as a likely cause of the crash.

"It sounds like there wasn't any trouble with the power plant," Bullock said. "Or that there was no serious problem that was noticed by the passenger."

The pilot, Robert Monaco, had more than 6,100 hours of total flight experience as of May 6, 2002, including 332 in the Beechcraft Air King B-200, according to the report.

His co-pilot, Eric Jacobson, had 750 hours of total flight experience as of July 2002.

NTSB investigators found that direct damage to the D-E Corp. building from the crash extended across, and including, the building's roof and rear wall.

The cockpit and forward fuselage section of the airplane were "severely fire-damaged," although investigators were able to retrieve a number of instrument indicators.

NTSB Air Safety Investigator Jill Andrews said the cockpit voice recorder also was retrieved and downloaded but "contained no useful information, unfortunately. I'm not sure why."

Andrews also said the plane's engines have been "retained for further examination" and that the NTSB will continue obtaining more information relevant to the crash investigation, including weather and radar data.

All of that information will be compiled into a factual report, then submitted to a five-member NTSB safety board, which eventually will come up with a probable accident cause. The whole process can take up to a year, Andrews said.

Aviation consultant Robert Breiling of Boca Raton, Fla., said there have been 63 accidents involving the Beechcraft Air King B-200, including 18 that were fatal.

Of the 63 accidents, Breiling said, 56 percent were "pilot-related." The remainder were attributed to weather- and maintenance-related causes, as well as other factors, Breiling said.

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