NTSB Reveals Clues in 2019 Lansing Plane Crash That Killed 5

Sept. 8, 2022

Sep. 7—A single-engine plane that went down near Lansing in 2019, killing five men from Indiana, was operating overweight and out of balance, the National Transportation Safety Board found.

The plane, a single-engine turboprop Socata TBM 700 C2 that seats six, was overweight by more than 230 pounds when it took off from Indy South Greenwood Airport in in Greenwood, Indiana, on Oct. 3, 2019, the report found. The information was dated Aug. 30 by the NTSB. The report details factual information about the flight and precedes a final report that would determine a probable cause for the accident.

"At takeoff, the airplane was about 232 lbs over the maximum allowable takeoff weight and about 2.53 inches past the aft [center of gravity] limit," the report found.

At impact, the airplane was about 126 pounds over the maximum allowable landing weight and 2.95 inches past the aft center of gravity limit, according to the report.

The center of gravity is the point at which a plane would balance if suspended from that point and is critical for optimal control of the airplane. The forward and rearward limits are prescribed by the plane's manufacturer based on weight distribution. The pilot in command is required know those limits, which can change as the airplane burns fuel.

A tail-heavy airplane would be more difficult to control, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

The crash occurred at 8:58 a.m. during the plane's descent into Capital Region International Airport in Lansing. Data from the aircraft's final minutes of flight show that just before impact it began to turn to the left of the runway, gained just over 10 feet of elevation and decreased airspeed.

The crash report included a 2014 study by the French Bureau d'Enquêtes et d'Analyses that found six of 36 accidents involving Socata TBM 700 C2 airplanes flew to the left of intended flight paths during the final approach and lost control at low speeds. The planes become harder to control when they roll to the left at airspeeds below 70 knots, the study found. The study said additional pilot training at slow airspeeds could help in preventing similar accidents.

The plane crashed in an open grass field about 0.3 miles northwest of a runway threshold at the Lansing airport..

The crash left a 135-foot-long "ground scar" in the field after initial impact, investigators said. Both wings and the tail remained attached to the fuselage. All flight control surfaces remained attached, they found.

"The post-accident examination did not reveal any anomalies that would have precluded normal operation of the airplane before it collided with terrain," according to the NTSB accident site and wreckage examination summary.

The pilot, who received his commercial pilot certificate on May 8, 2019, and four passengers were killed. One passenger sustained serious injuries.

Those who died in the crash were:

— Pilot Joel Stewart Beavins, 48 of Franklin, Indiana.

— Timothy Joe Clark, 67, of Franklin, Indiana, a pilot-rated companion of pilot.

— John Thomas Lowe, 51, of Greenwood, Indiana.

— Neil Alan Sego, 46, of Trafalgar, Indiana.

— Zechariah Eugene Bennett, 27, of Plainfield, Indiana

Aaron Levi Blackford, 42, of Frankton, Indiana, survived.

The passengers, who worked for Indiana-based engineering firms, were contractors on the Delta Energy Park, a natural gas electric-generating plant of the Lansing Board of Water and Light that celebrated its grand opening last month.

The plane had approximately 202 gallons of fuel prior to departure and used around 70 gallons during the flight. The maximum takeoff weight of the plane was 7,394 pounds. Based on the amount of fuel, and the reported weights and seat positions for the pilot and passengers, the takeoff weight before the flight was 232 pounds over the limit.

The aircraft's manufacturer calculated aerodynamic stall speeds for the plane while operating above the maximum landing weight with an altered center of gravity. The stall speed is estimated to be 62 knots with landing gear and flaps extended for landing and 79 knots with the landing gear and flaps retracted.

It is difficult for an airplane operating with a center of gravity beyond the typical limits to recover from an aerodynamic stall, according to the FAA's Aircraft Weight and Balance Handbook.

The factual report reveals the plane's last five minutes of flight, after departing from Indiana at 8 a.m. At 8:34 a.m. the small craft began to descend to an altitude of 3,000 feet above mean sea level.

Air traffic control communications indicate the flight was given directions to join the runway's instrument landing system's localizer, a system that helps guide the plane's approach to the runway.

At 8:53 a.m., the pilot was instructed by the airport's approach controller to maintain 3,000 feet of elevation above mean sea level until he entered the runway's instrument landing system's localizer. FAA automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B) data indicated the plane joined the localizer.

At 8:54 a.m., the pilot established communications with the airport tower controller who said, "The winds are calm ... cleared to land."

At 8:55 a.m., the aircraft reached 2,367 feet above mean sea level, the altitude for the final approach fix, traveling at a speed of 166 knots. The plane continued to descend along the proper path of descent for an aircraft preparing to land, investigators found.

By 8:57 a.m., the plane was half a mile from the runway threshold, about 1,047 feet above mean sea level (180 feet above the ground) and traveling 84 knots when it began a shallow climb and a left turn away from the runway. The aircraft climbed to a height of 1,059 feet above mean sea level and dropped to a speed of 74 knots about 0.35 miles west of the runway threshold. This was the last ADS-B data recorded.

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