COLUMBUS, Ind. – The pilot of a single-engine airplane was “working frantically on a switch for the propeller” just moments before the plane crashed into a house in Columbus, Ind., July 25, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said this week.
According to the NTSB’s preliminary report, pilot Gerald Clayton departed Columbus Municipal Airport in his Glastar GS-1 airplane just minutes before the crash. According to the NTSB report, Mr. Clayton had been taking the airplane “on a downwind leg for a touch-and-go landing” when the aircraft started descending uncontrollably while running at a high RPM, hitting obstructions before it crashed into the home about 9:30 a.m.
The airplane exploded on impact, but Mr. Clayton and his passenger Dennis King were extracted from the plane before a fire engulfed the house. A woman who was inside the house was able to escape uninjured.
Mr. Clayton, 81, died at the hospital more than a week later from injuries sustained in the crash. Mr. King, 60, remains in the hospital in good condition.
According to the Indianapolis News, the crash reduced “a portion of the house to rubble and left a hole in the roof and piles of charred wood on the ground.”
Although the NTSB’s report isn’t conclusive, its findings so far indicate that a mechanical failure involving the airplane’s propeller played a role in the crash. According to federal aviation data, mechanical failures account for about 22 percent of all general aviation crashes in the U.S. In some of these cases, the mechanical problem is exacerbated by the pilot’s faulty response and the crash becomes the result of mechanical trouble and pilot error.
The Columbus, Ind., crash demonstrates some of the inherent risks of flying and why it is absolutely critical that airplane manufacturers, pilots, mechanics, air traffic controllers, and others who directly influence the safety of a flight adhere to the highest possible standards at all times. One mechanical glitch or faulty response can spell disaster for the airplane’s occupants as well as unsuspecting people on the ground.