Federal officials on Friday began their investigation into a fatal plane crash that killed two people.
Investigators have not ruled anything out, but preliminary reports suggest engine failure caused the 1987 Beech Bonanza to crash in Jefferson County on Thursday morning.
“He experienced the engine anomaly quite a few miles away from here,” said Jennifer Rodi, the National Transportation Safety Board’s lead investigator at the accident site.
Gregory Collis and his wife, Pindi Williams, were flying from Kansas City to New Mexico when their plane crashed about 5 miles from Lawrence Municipal Airport. Officials from the Federal Aviation Administration and NTSB were joined by the makers of the plane’s engine and airframe at the site Friday.
“We’ll be looking very closely at the airframe and the engine,” said Rodi, “to understand exactly what kind of engine problem or engine anomaly he was experiencing at the time of the accident.”
According to Collis’ flight plan, he was supposed to be flying at an altitude of 14,000 feet, but investigators are unsure of the plane’s altitude and how far it was from the Lawrence airport before it crashed. They also don’t know how long Collis had to try to land the plane safely.
“Once we have the radar data and tapes from air traffic control we’ll have a better appreciation for exactly how long that was, timewise and distance-wise,” Rodi said.
An audio recording from the Kansas City, Mo., air traffic control revealed that Collis “lost an engine.” The controller who spoke to the 56-year-old pilot said the last thing he heard was Collis mention seeing a road.
Investigators are not certain which road Collis may have seen, but Rodi said his best chance of landing the aircraft would not have been on a nearby road because power lines would have obstructed his landing attempt. “This field right here, while it’s not completely flat, would have been an acceptable forced landing field,” she said.
Investigators planned to move the aircraft to a St. Louis storage facility for further investigation Friday. Rodi estimated it would be 8 to 10 months before an official statement of probable cause would be released, but she expects a preliminary report to be released next week.
“It’s just not fair to the family, to the manufacturers, to the pilot, to speculate as to what caused this accident,” she said. “We consider all areas: man, machine and environment.”