Even as it lifted off from Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport, a Piper Cheyenne might have lacked sufficient power to safely climb into sky, according to an accident report released Thursday.
The twin-engine plane crashed into an impound lot just east of the airport last Friday. It burst into flames, set several vehicles on fire and came to rest upside down. All three people onboard perished.
A post-accident examination showed the engines apparently were generating a low to mid-range amount of power when the plane pulled away from the ground.
Whether that was because the throttles were placed at a lower setting or the engines were malfunctioning remains undetermined, said Keith Holloway, spokesman for the National Transportation Safety Board.
“That’s what we need to figure out,” he said. “We are at a point where we are analyzing this information.”
Normally, pilots throttle up to a high power setting for takeoff.
Killed were the pilot Steven Waller, 65, of Deerfield Beach, and Kevin Watson, 30, of Pompano Beach; his father Wally Watson, 66, of Boca Raton.
Kevin Watson was president of Avionics Engineering, a company based at Fort Lauderdale Executive. His father, Wally, was the firm's engineer and design consultant.
MAS Inc., of Fort Lauderdale, the Piper Cheyenne's registered owner, had hired Avionics Engineering to upgrade the plane’s avionics systems.
The Watsons had asked Waller, a friend and seasoned corporate pilot, to conduct what was intended to be a 15-minute check flight. The plane was being prepared to be sold to a customer in Colombia, the report said.
MAS officials told investigators that the aircraft had undergone a maintenance check four days before the accident and that they were unaware of any mechanical problems. They also said the plane had a detailed maintenance inspection when they purchased it, in November 2012.
The Piper Cheyenne took off from Executive Airport’s 6,002-foot runway at about 4:20 p.m. on Friday. Although it was expected to make a left turn to the northwest, it instead made a steep right turn back toward the airport, witnesses said.
Waller, the pilot, radioed that he was experiencing an emergency but didn’t indicate its nature. One witness, a pilot, said the airplane struggled to climb and barely cleared trees and buildings near the end of the runway.
The Cheyenne began to shake, rolled 90 degrees and appeared to stall, which in aviation terms means it lacked enough speed to sustain flight. It then plunged “straight down toward the ground,” NTSB senior accident investigator Luke Schiada wrote in the report.
The crash scene was in a warehouse area just west of Powerline Road, north of Commercial Boulevard. It also was .6 miles from the runway. Other than a wingtip fuel tank found 20 feet from the wreckage, almost the entire plane was consumed in fire, Schiada said.
The plane’s maintenance logbooks revealed that it had been flown 135 hours in the past five years and about 20 hours since January 2012, he said.
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