NTSB: Aircraft Types May Have Contributed to Fly-In Pilots' Fatal Formation Collision

July 3, 2019

The deaths of two highly experienced Spruce Creek Fly-In pilots who died in a tragic plane crash more than two years ago may have been caused by two dissimilar planes flying in close formation, according to an investigative report.

On the morning of April 1, 2017, Fly-In residents and aircraft owners Gary Somerton, 57, and Anne Edmonson, 66, were killed when their planes collided and crashed to the ground near Interstate 95 in Edgewater.

Witnesses at the time described driving south on Interstate 95 near State Road 442 and seeing a wing tumble to the ground and a piece from one of the planes land in the interstate's median.

[READ MORE: NTSB: Planes were changing formation during deadly collision over Edgewater]

At the time, a preliminary report stated that the formation of five planes, known as a "Spruce Creek Gaggle" flight, had just departed the Fly-In and were heading to Titusville for breakfast when, as they flew over Edgewater, the flight leader ordered the pilots to reposition their planes to avoid the sun's glare.

According to a National Transportation Safety Board report released last week, as the planes realigned, Somerton's Cessna 170B and Edmonson's Grumman American AA5B collided and plummeted to the ground.

No blame for the crash was placed by the aviation board at the time, and both pilots have been praised regarding their high level of experience in the cockpit. Somerton was a pilot at United Airlines at the time of his death and had about 14,620 flight hours. Edmonson was a retired airline pilot qualified to fly several commercial planes including the mammoth Boeing 747. She had about 11,368 flight hours.

Now, more than two years later, the NTSB suggests one of the contributing factors that led to the crash may have been that Somerton and Edmonson's planes used in the Fly-In's Gaggle were dissimilar in style and that could have led to poor visibility from the cockpit.

"The Cessna 170B and the Grumman American AA-5B were dissimilar aircraft because the Cessna was a high-wing airplane and the Grumman was a low-wing airplane," the National Transportation Safety Board crash investigation states. "The pilot of the Cessna would have had limited visibility outside of the cockpit to any area that was directly above, or above and to the left or right of the cockpit due to the cabin roof and wings. The converse would generally be true for the low wing aircraft, like the Grumman, operating in the formation."

The Spruce Creek Fly-In's "Gaggle" has been a tradition for decades and, since it isn't a constant group of pilots or planes participating in all flights, dissimilar planes are occasionally piloted in the formations.

James Clark, who acted as spokesman for the plane-centric community when the crash happened, said at the time that both were "tremendously capable pilots."


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