Report: Pilot in Fatal Hope Mills Crash Had Issues with Controls

July 11, 2019

HOPE MILLS — A repair on a cockpit electronic control issue had not been completed on a private airplane that crashed into a home near Hope Mills late last month before the pilot took it up to fly under nighttime visual conditions, the National Transportation Safety Board said in a preliminary report.

While on an approach to runway 4 at Fayetteville Municipal Airport on the night of June 27, the pilot, Bill Merritt of Fayetteville, reported control issues with the aircraft before no further communication was received from the flight, the report said.

Merritt, 66, and homeowner Henry Parker, 55, were killed. Parker's wife, Loretta Lynne Parker, 52, seriously was injured and hospitalized at Cape Fear Valley Medical Center.

A family member did not respond to phone and email messages left Wednesday for an update on Lynne Parker's condition.

Attributing a maintenance technician, the NTSB said in the aviation accident preliminary report that Merritt had visited an avionics maintenance facility about 6 p.m. on the night of the crash because of an attitude and heading reference system fail light illumination in the cockpit.

In aviation terms, flying by attitude means visually establishing the aircraft's attitude with reference to the natural horizon.

The attitude and heading reference system provides heading and attitude information with greater accuracy and reliability than traditional mechanical gyroscopic flight instruments, according to online accounts. The AHRS uses tiny sensors to measure acceleration, while a fast computer chip analyzes those forces and calculates airplane attitude.

"The pilot was informed that the repair had not been completed as the facility needed to contact the (electronic flight information system) manufacturer for more information," the preliminary report states.

Robert Katz, a Dallas-based flight instructor and pilot with 38 years of flight experience, called the system "kind of like the brains of the instrumentation. It helps provide information that helps the pilot stay oriented in flight."

After reading from the preliminary report, he said, "I'm inclined to think that due to the destruction of the airplane and no fire is a clear indication to me of no fuel. I'm very confident this plane ran out of fuel."

That seems to conflict with the early findings in the National Transportation Safety Board's preliminary report.

"The preliminary report is early facts," Terry Williams, a spokesman with the NTSB, said."No analysis at this time. We're still gathering facts. We don't jump to conclusions. That was one phase of the investigation. They're going to be reviewing the aircraft in a secure location."

At 10:32 p.m. on June 27, the twin-engine, six-seat Beechcraft Baron struck the bedroom end of a double-wide modular home at 4821 Pasadena Court, off U.S. 301, and roughly 2 miles southwest of the approach end of the airport's runway 4.

The Parkers' Pasadena Avenue residence falls within the flight path of aircraft using Fayetteville Regional Airport.

In the days before the fatal crash, the report said, the plane had experienced problems with its electronic controls.

The fixed wing, multi-engine plane was built in 1979, according to the FAA.

According to maintenance logbooks, the aircraft's more recent annual inspection was conducted November 1, 2018, the NTSB said in the report. At that time, the airplane had accumulated 2,178.8 hours of flight time.

Industrial Power Inc., which is in the 700 block of Whitfield Street, is listed as the registered owner of the plane, according to the FAA website. Merritt served as president of the company.

According to the NTSB, Merritt had told a friend who flew with him June 24, from Fayetteville to Smith Reynolds Airport in Winston-Salem that Merritt planned to take the airplane to the maintenance facility. Merritt also told the friend, the report said, that he planned to perform three night landings to maintain his night currency.

To be current for night landings with passengers, a pilot must have done at least three full stop landings between the times of one hour after sunset and one hour before sunrise within the last 90 days, said the website Pilots of America.

Another pilot, also aboard the June 24 flight to Winston-Salem, said in the preliminary report that the caution light for the attitude and heading reference system remained lit for the first 12 to 15 minutes of the flight. The pilot told investigators that the plane's autopilot wouldn't engage when the light was on, but he noticed no problems with the electronic flight information system display.

On the night of the crash, Merritt already had landed at the airport before taking off again, and the plane was circling for its runway approach, said Robert Gretz, a senior air safety investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board.

Staff writer Michael Futch can be reached at [email protected] or 910-486-3529.


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