The pilot of a plane that crashed into the Spokane River earlier this month had already recovered from one in-flight emergency and was on final approach to Felts Field when it banked sharply and veered out of control just as it reached the runway, a preliminary investigation shows.
“We have a control emergency there, a hard right aileron,” pilot Richard Runyon radioed to the Felts Field control tower after advising that he’d brought an earlier problem under control. The plane crashed into the river moments later, with witnesses reporting a loud engine noise coming from the craft as it passed above the airport taxi way, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.
Also killed in the May 7 crash was passenger Lyndon Amestoy, who also was a licensed pilot. Both victims were employees of Spokane-based Rocket Engineering, which had worked on and inspected the plane.
The two men were taking the Piper PA 46-350P, owned by Flying Colors Aviation LLC, for what was supposed to be a 40-minute post-inspection test flight but encountered problems shortly after taking off from Felts Field at 3:53 p.m., according to the preliminary NTSB report.
Almost immediately after takeoff, the plane banked so sharply to the right that control tower personnel radioed the pilot to determine if everything was OK.
The pilot responded, “That’s negative” as the aircraft’s bank tightened while rapidly losing altitude. Witnesses told investigators the plane was banking so sharply and losing altitude so quickly they feared it was about to crash.
Instead, it eased out of the sharp bank and began regaining altitude while flying in what’s described as a meandering easterly direction.
“We are trying to get under control here,” the pilot radioed air traffic controllers. “Be back with you.”
The plane eventually reached the Newman Lake area, about 11 miles east of Felts Field, and had climbed to about 5,600 feet, the report shows. The pilot reported “things seem to be stabilizing” and when asked by air traffic controllers about his flight intentions advised: “We are going to stay out here for a little while and play with things a little bit, and see if we can get back.”
The plane began what investigators describe as a gradual left-hand turn and the pilot requested clearance for a straight-in landing. At seven miles out, the plane became aligned with the runway, investigators said, and that’s when Runyon advised of the problem with the aileron, which is the hinged portion of an airplane wing that controls the craft’s lateral balance. The plane appeared to hold steady, with the pilot advising at three miles out that he was on final approach while tightly aligned to the runway centerline through the descent.
Then, as the aircraft passed above the runway numbers at the edge of the asphalt it appeared to be flying “in a 20 degrees right wing low altitude” and passed above a taxiway before crashing into the river about 11 minutes after its initial takeoff.
Both wings and other parts of the aircraft broke apart on impact and the forward cabin sustained heavy damage, the NTSB said.
Rocket Engineering, which is based at Felts Field, specializes in federally approved aircraft conversions that generally are designed to improve performance. The company said the plane that crashed May 7 had undergone one of the conversions and had just received an FAA inspection.
Runyon, 64, was a US. Air Force veteran, test pilot and a certified flight instructor. He also had a commercial pilot’s license and was certified as a repairman and builder of experimental aircraft, according to FAA records.
Amestoy, 60, was a customer support manager for Rocket Engineering.
The NTSB’s lead investigator on the accident is Eliott Simpson.
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