NTSB: Plane Climbed Quickly before Crashing off the Outer Banks, Killing All on Board

Feb. 28, 2022

Feb. 26—The pilot of a plane that crashed off the Outer Banks this month, killing all eight people on board, did not report any problems before an air traffic controller lost contact, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.

The last the controller heard from the pilot was an acknowledgment that he needed to maintain an altitude of 1,900 feet as he approached Cape Lookout National Seashore at about 2 p.m. Feb. 13. The plane was about 200 feet too low, according to a preliminary NTSB report released late Friday.

Less than three minutes later, the controller tried to reach the pilot again, because the plane was now at 4,700 feet and "climbing quickly," according to the report. A minute later, radar contact was lost with the plane, which crashed in about 60 feet of water three miles off shore.

"Throughout the communication with air traffic control, there was no distress calls or a declaration of emergency from the airplane," according to the report.

The four-page NTSB report lays out the federal agency's initial findings but does not make any conclusions about what might have caused the crash. A final report identifying a likely cause will take a year or more to complete.

The pilot was Ernest Durwood Rawls, 67, of Greenville, who was certified as a commercial pilot. He had taken off from Hyde County Airport near Englehard with seven passengers, including four high school students, after an annual youth duck-hunting trip.

The other adults were Rawls' son, Jeffrey Worthington Rawls, 28, and Stephanie Ann McInnis Fulcher, 42, and her boyfriend, Douglas Hunter Parks, 45, both of Sea Level. Parks owned the plane, a single-engine Pilatus PC-12.

The teens were McInnis' son, Jonathan Kole McInnis, 15, of Sea Level; Noah Lee Styron, 15, of Cedar Island; Michael Daily Shepard, 15, and Jacob Nolan Taylor, 16, both of Atlantic.

As the plane departed Hyde County, Rawls requested clearance to land at Michael J. Smith Field Airport in Beaufort. The air traffic controller told him he was nearing airspace that was restricted because of military activity and directed him to fly east, according to the NTSB. That heading took the plane out over the Atlantic Ocean.

When the military aircraft cleared the area, the air traffic controller gave Rawls new instructions for approaching Smith Field.

The NTSB report said Rawls had more than 3,000 hours of flight experience at the time of his most recent medical certification last summer. It said the passenger seated next to him held a student pilot certificate, with about 20 hours of flight experience as of last summer. The report does not identify the student pilot by name or indicate if he was involved with the flight.

Dive crews recovered an emergency locator transmitter and a flight data recorder from the Pilatus. The recorder was sent to an NTSB lab for data recovery.

The NTSB report said examination of the wreckage is "pending recovery."

This story was originally published February 25, 2022 6:24 PM.


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