Final Accident Report Released in Fatal Brookings Plane Crash

46-year-old John Belnap and 17-year-old Max Belnap of Grants Pass, along with 17-year-old Ryan Merker died in the crash in July 2016.

Posted: Apr. 29, 2018 4:41 PM
Updated: Apr. 29, 2018 8:54 PM

BROOKINGS, Ore.- The plane took off from Brookings on July 4th, 2016, but never made it to Grants Pass. The probable cause for why the plane crashed was finalized in a report this April 2018.

According to the National Transportation Safety Board, the pilot left for the third leg of a cross-country flight in the airplane during dark and moonless night conditions.

The departure path was toward the ocean and over an area with few ground-based light sources to provide visual cues. The NTSB says in a report, "A witness heard an airplane flying nearby and assumed that it was taking off from the airport. As the airplane continued, he heard a reduction in engine power, like a pilot throttling back while landing."

According to the witness, the engine did not sputter. Review of the recorded radar data showed that the airplane turned left shortly after takeoff and climbed to about 700 ft above ground level as it passed near the witness's location.

The airplane did not arrive at its destination, and a search was initiated. The wreckage of the airplane was found in ocean waters about 2 miles west of the departure airport.

Although visual meteorological conditions prevailed, no natural horizon and few external visual references were available during the departure. This required the pilot to monitor the flight instruments to maintain awareness of the airplane's altitude.

The NTSB says, "Given the lack of external visual cues and the the pilot's lack of recent night flight experience and his lack of an instrument rating, it is likely that the pilot became spatially disorientated during the departing left turn."

The main wreckage was not recovered. So investigators could not determine whether any preimpact mechanical malfunctions or anomalies were present.

The National Transportation Safety Board determined the probable causes of this accident were as follows:
"The pilot's spatial disorientation and loss of situational awareness during the departure turn in dark night conditions, which resulted in an in-flight collision with water."

You can click here  to read the NTSB full report.

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