BY Susan E. White
VIRGINIA BEACH -- A small plane that slammed into the backyard of a Lawson Forest home nearly a year ago, killing the pilot and a passenger, was about 2 pounds overweight and was not displaying a manufacturer's warning signs on properly latched cabin doors.
W hether those factors played a role in the crash that killed Norfolk businessman George R. "G.R." Schell, 69, and his girlfriend, Judy Broadway, 63, of Rockledge, Fla., have not been determined.
The National Transportation Safety Board's five-member governing board is expected to issue a probable cause in the crash within the next few months, said Keith Holloway, a board spokesman.
The latest findings in the July 11 crash near Virginia Wesleyan College were released Friday as part of an ongoing investigation. Schell's single-engine Beechcraft Sierra crashed shortly after takeoff from Norfolk International Airport. Federal investigators said Schell had radioed that he was returning to the airport because a cabin door had opened.
The plane, which also carried two dogs, was bound for Hilton Head, S.C. The dogs also died.
The latest report outlines the flight's history, the mechanical conditions of the plane and weather conditions at the time of the crash. According to the report, Schell's plane was estimated to be about 2 pounds more than its maximum gross weight of 2,750 pounds. The "airplane's center of gravity was within limitations," the report said, meaning that the plane's weight was balanced.
The report also notes that "Cabin Door Latching Warning" signs were not found on the plane's cabin door windows at the time of the crash, though records show they initially were installed during an annual inspection in April 1991. There was no record that they were replaced after new cabin windows were installed in the plane in 1995 and 2003, the report noted.
According to the s afety b oard, Beechcraft recommended in 1990 that the warning signs be installed after reports of accidents occurring after cabin doors opened.
Broadway's family estate has filed a $5 million lawsuit against Schell's family estate. The lawsuit claims Schell was negligent because he took off without securing the plane's door. When Schell tried to return to the airport, the lawsuit alleges, he failed to climb to a safe altitude and maintain adequate speed during a turn, causing the plane to stall and crash.
An attorney representing Schell's family estate said Tuesday that the report "raises some questions."
"But I'm not sure that it gives the answers at this point," said Bryan Plumlee of the Virginia Beach firm Huff, Poole & Mahoney. "Obviously, we're doing our own investigation."
The federal report, Plumlee said, is meant to "assist the government and the aviation industry" about the measures that can be taken to make flying safer. "It's still incumbent upon the parties " in the lawsuit, he said, "to prove their case."
Andy Broadway, Judy Broadway's son, said he had not read the report and would not comment on it or the lawsuit.
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