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Family Of Five Among Dead In Small Plane Crash

Posted by Jane Akre
Monday, March 23, 2009 3:40 PM EST
Category: On The Road, Major Medical, Protecting Your Family
Tags: Small Plane Crash, Mass Transit, Airport, FAA

This Swiss made turbo-prop plane crashed Sunday killing an estimated 14 onboard.  



IMAGE SOURCE: PC-12 NG, Pilatus Web site


Unfortunately without a black box or cockpit voice reporter, investigators will have a difficult time knowing what caused a small plane to crash in Montana Sunday killing 14 people, half of them children. 

What investigators do know so far is that the small single-engine turboprop plane, a Pilatus PC-12, was overloaded.

Federal aviation officials say the plane was not certified to carry commercial passengers.

It had 14 on board but was designed to have a total of 11, including two pilots.  In all, seven children and seven adults were killed.  Earlier reports were that the plane had 17 onboard.

The Swiss-made plane is configured to seat 9 or 10 people, but the New York Times reports this aircraft was said to have seating for 12.

The plane left the city of Redlands, east of Los Angeles Sunday morning. It flew to Vacaville, about 50 miles north of San Francisco and stayed less than an hour before flying onto Oroville, where it picked up a group of people.

Tom Hagler, owner of Table Mountain Aviation, tells USA Today he saw a group of a dozen children — ages 6 to 10 — and four adults at Oroville Municipal Airport.

"A lot of really cute kids," he said. They were apparently going for a ski vacation.

They boarded for the 2.5 hour flight to Bozeman, Montana.   For some reason the plane diverted northwest to Butte, about 85 miles northwest of Bozeman.   

About 500 feet short of the runway it made a sharp turn to the left, then went into a nose-dive into the ground at the end of a cemetery.   

Many are wondering how many were not buckled in, which would throw off the center of gravity in a plane likely already overloaded with ski equipment.  Sharp turns could have caused bodies to fly and an unstable aircraft.

Mark Rosenker, acting chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), told ABC News, "It will take us a while to understand.  We have to get the weights of all the passengers; we have to get the weight of the fuel, all of the luggage."

Some of the luggage is retrievable to determine weight measurements.  Small children were said to be onboard and were likely sitting on their parents lap.

Before the plane crashed, the pilot gave no indication to air traffic controllers of any difficulty when he requested permission to divert to Butte. 

A witness says the plane jerked to the left before it took a nose-dive.  Another witness says he thought he was watching a stunt plane because of the many turns the small plane was making.  The plane seemed to stall upon the final approach and go into a spin at a low altitude.

A family of five from St. Helena, California, Dr. Erin Jacobson and his wife, Amy were among the victims. Their three children were preschoolers.

There was no radar a the Butte airport so the pilot would use visual flight rules and switch to radio frequency to determine if other aircraft were in the area. 

The pilot is unidentified and it’s not known if there was more than one pilot onboard. But the plane was registered to Eagle Cap Leasing Inc. in Enterprise, Oregon.  That company’s president is a pilot.

Last month a commuter plane crashed into a house in a Buffalo, N.Y. suburb killing all 49 people onboard.  Before that, it had been two years since there were any fatalities on a commercial airliner in the U.S.  #


Posted by Tom Young
Monday, March 23, 2009 3:53 PM EST

The Pilatus PC-12 is a high-end aircraft known for it's safety and reliability. Seems incomprehensible that a knowledgeable pilot would overload a plane to this extent. Maybe he figured that they were just kids and thus would not impact the total weight that much?

Anonymous User
Posted by Sean Dodd
Monday, March 23, 2009 4:58 PM EST

We do not "know" the plane was overloaded as we do not know the ages of the victims; children under 2 can sit on laps and count as one seat under FAA regs. We do not know that the aircraft was "already overloaded with ski equipment" as many people hire skis at the resort. On operation I know that run golf trips insist the golfers ship their clubs via FedEx or UPS in advance.
Stick to the facts as known and leave the speculation to the cheaper end of the media.

Anonymous User
Posted by Faisal Adil
Monday, March 23, 2009 6:00 PM EST


Jane Akre Injury Board Community Member
Posted by Jane Akre
Monday, March 23, 2009 6:21 PM EST


If you have something to add of substance - we are glad to have you add to the conversation here. Perhaps you are reading an earlier version of the story.

As it unfolds this afternoon, we do indeed know the identities of some of the people on the plane, the five that we identified in the story, the Jacobson family as well as Dr. Vaness Pullen and her husband Mike.

The Jacobson children are Taylor, 4; Ava age 3; and Jude age 2.

Both women are daughters of a man who was meeting them in Yosemite and he has told his story to the Los Angeles Times.

Yes it is very tragic indeed and we'll try to find some answers and information so readers can prevent injury in their lives. We will keep you posted as we know more.

The truth is we just don't know what happened here, though the theory about shifting cargo and people- therefore shifting the center of gravity of the plane - many pilots blogging seem to feel the plane's actions before it crashed may indicate that is what happened.

BTW- the plane can be configured to hold any number of passengers up to 11 or 12, plus the pilots, so that's why there are varying numbers about its capacity. It really comes down to the weight it was carrying, which will be the focus of the NTSB investigation.

Pilots- any comments are welcome!

Anonymous User
Posted by Andrew P.
Monday, March 23, 2009 7:12 PM EST

Just an educated guess, but it will probably turn out to have been a classic stall-spin accident, supported by eyewitness accounts of the final seconds of the flight. If the plane had been loaded properly with the maximum number of adult passengers, it would be difficult to do, but with extra children aboard, they might have been located far ahead or aft of the permissible center-of-gravity range. This might be tolerable at cruise conditions, but downright fatal during the slower speeds of takeoff or landing, especially in the thinner air at the mile-high elevation of Butte, Montana.

Posted by Jane Akre
Monday, March 23, 2009 7:30 PM EST

Hello All-

It appears the plane was overloaded with bodies. Whether they added enough weight to overload the plane, will be up to NTSB investigators to determine.

But I'd like to add a personal experience.

One time I was flying, sitting in first class (that rarely happens) and we were barely in a roll toward the tarmac. We had gained no speed here when one of those little golf cart type vehicles drove in front of our plane. The pilot had to hit the brakes hard. I could not believe the force that followed.

The flight attendant who was getting drinks, hit the ceiling then hit the floor hard. The one in the galley hit her face into the metal compartment doors and broke her nose. Drinks dripped from the ceiling and I thanked God that I had my seatbelt on, otherwise I too would have hit the ceiling with unbelievable sudden force.

I bring this up because as a mother, I never let my child travel on a plane without a flight-certified properly strapped in seat again. Had a little one been sitting on my lap, she could have hit the ceiling and broken her neck easily from the force. There would have been no way I could have restrained her.

So FAA regulations may let children sit on the laps of their parents, but my personal experience is that is a very bad idea.

I bring that up here, because in a sharp turn, it would be possible for little bodies to get out of the protective reach of their parents and throw a plane off balance - No matter how much you try otherwise. And clearly there were not enough seat to strap each child in.

Comments for this article are closed.

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