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Report: Cable error caused fatal airplane crash in Spokane River

The wreckage of a 1996 Piper Malibu flown by Lyndon Amestoy and Richard Runyon is pulled from the Spokane River on Saturday, May 9, 2015, near Felts Field in Spokane, Wash. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
The wreckage of a 1996 Piper Malibu flown by Lyndon Amestoy and Richard Runyon is pulled from the Spokane River on Saturday, May 9, 2015, near Felts Field in Spokane, Wash. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

Cables controlling banking and turning were improperly installed on a propellor airplane that crashed into the Spokane River during a test flight in May 2015, according to a final report issued by the National Transportation Safety Board.

The report faults the mechanic in charge of installing the cables, as well as the pilot of the plane, for failing to notice the error before the Piper Malibu single-propeller took off just before 4 p.m. from Felts Field. The cable mistake would not have presented any “obvious visual cues,” according to Eliott Simpson, the NTSB’s chief investigator on the crash, but should have been caught following weeks of maintenance on the plane and in instrusment tests that took place moments before the flight.

Pilot Richard Runyon, 64, and passenger Lyndon Amestoy, 60, died in the crash, the second that occurred in Spokane in a three-month period in 2015. The report, published in September, does not name the mechanic in charge of maintenance on the aircraft.

Runyon and Amestoy, employees of the firm Rocket Engineering, were working with urgency that afternoon. The owner of the airplane was on his way to Spokane from Las Vegas to pick up the aircraft after several delays, and Runyon wasn’t scheduled to work the following day, a Friday, because of an appointment with a Federal Aviation Administration medical examiner.

“It is likely that the mechanic and pilot felt some pressure to be finished that day so the owner could depart in the morning and the pilot could attend his appointment,” wrote Simpson, the inspector.

The flight lasted just 11 minutes and the plane experienced a sharp right roll immediately after takeoff, according to reports. Runyon corrected the error and attempted to return the plane to Felts Field, but crashed into the river on an attempt to land, according to the report.

Simpson’s report notes the plane’s maintenance manual includes a warning in all caps to check what are called the aileron cables, which control the plane’s banking. The mechanic, who had 22 years of experience in aircraft maintenance, told inspectors that he instructed a coworker to check his installation of the cables, but that coworker denied independently inspecting them before the crash.

Friends and family members remembered Runyon and Amestoy as experienced pilots.

“Knowing my husband, he would sacrifice himself,” said Runyon’s wife, Karen, in a 2015 interview.

Michael Clements, 61, died in crash near the Hamilton Street bridge three months before the one involving Runyon and Amestoy. A final report from the NTSB has not been issued in that crash, but a preliminary investigation showed Clements’ aircraft was filled up with the wrong type of fuel. A lawsuit has been filed in that case.


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