Plane malfunction ruled out in fatal 2019 crash in Ocala, Florida
The National Transportation Safety Board has concluded that all is well with the plane which crashed on State Road 200 just over two years ago, killing the plane’s two occupants – the pilot and a mechanic – and seriously injuring a motorist.
Investigators said the plane, engines and fuel transducers were examined, but “no mechanical abnormalities that would have prevented normal operation” were found.
NTSB officials said examination of the plane and a toxicology report indicate “the pilot (Peter Morrow) did not act in a manner consistent with his level of skill and experience.” They added: “It is likely that his loss of control was the result of a physiological impairment.”
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The pilot’s health record
The nine-page report also states, “It was not possible to determine whether his impairment was the result of an acute medical event and/or his use of impairing medication based on the information available.”
Under “probable cause and findings,” NTSB officials wrote, “the pilot’s inability to maintain control of the aircraft due to an acute medical event and/or his use of impairing medications.”
NTSB officials said in the report that Morrow’s autopsy showed he had what was termed “severe abdominal aortic atherosclerotic disease, which increased his risk of an extra-cardiovascular event such as stroke.” cerebrovascular”.
The toxicology report “detected diazepam, an alterative drug, and its metabolite at the lower end of its therapeutic range in the pilot’s chest blood.”
Morrow, 73, flew the Beechcraft BE-58. He had accumulated about 7,800 total flight hours, according to his logbook.
NTSB officials said he passed his last Federal Aviation Administration-required medical exam on Feb. 2, 2019, and received an FAA third-class medical clearance, with a limitation for corrective lenses, on February 19, 2019.
It was last flight serviced on October 4, 2019. The aircraft was last inspected on March 18, 2019. The accident occurred on October 31, 2019.
Morrow had a private pilot’s certificate with ratings for multi-engine land aeroplane, single-engine land aeroplane, single-engine sea aeroplane, and instrument airplane. Morrow was co-owner of Jamaica Inn, a hotel in Ocho Rios, Jamaica, according to the hotel’s blog website which announced his death.
Why the investigation took so long
Morrow and a mechanic, Christopher Belcher, 50, died in the Oct. 31, 2019, crash along SR 200 west of Interstate 75 near Market Street at the Heath Brook Mall.
The crash also injured a motorist, Ramon Escalante, who was driving a Toyota sport utility vehicle eastbound on SR 200. The plane struck the SUV shortly after 11:30 a.m.
Peter C. Knudson, a spokesman for the NTSB, said the agency has many reasons why a report on a fatal plane crash is taking a long time.
In this case, Knudson said, aside from the usual work of investigators, this accident had other things that investigators needed to consider before issuing a final report.
“This particular investigation involved an audio analysis of air traffic control communications, a study of the video recording of the accident, the evaluation of numerous witness statements and an analysis of medical issues by staff physicians,” said Knudson.
The spokesperson points to the 50 NTSB Aviation Safety Investigators on staff who handle approximately 1,200 aviation accidents nationwide. This represents “a heavy and unpredictable workload”, he said.
“While we strive to complete investigations in a timely manner, our highest priority is that the investigation be accurate and complete,” Knudson said.
Morrow communicates with an air traffic controller
An OPD report mentions that Morrow and a friend had arrived on the plane at Ocala International Airport on October 30, 2019 from Punta Gorda. They were on their way to California and stopped here.
The NTSB report says Morrow’s friend said the flight to Ocala was normal, but the right engine fuel flow meter fluctuated between zero and high, while other engine instruments were normal.
Morrow had Belcher, a mechanic, check the fuel transducer on October 31.
Belcher performed some maintenance drills on the aircraft and he and Morrow conducted “several uneventful engine runs,” according to the report.
The two conducted a test flight together Oct. 31, NTSB officials said. Morrow’s friend was not on that fateful flight.
When the plane took off on October 31, Morrow was cleared to make a right turn to head west. Instead, he went east.
NTSB officials said a controller called Morrow twice, but he did not answer. On the third try, the controller asked Morrow “if he was okay”. Morrow replied, “repeat.”
The controller asked Morrow his direction and Morrow said “he was heading west”. The controller told him “no, you’re not, you’re heading east, sir.”
The controller gave Morrow instructions to go west, but Morrow did not respond, NTSB officials said. The controller asked Morrow where he was going and a few seconds later he heard “niner charlie mike, we need to get back to the field, sir.”
It was the last communication from the plane, NTSB officials said.
Additional information gathered about the crash
Witnesses told NTSB officials that the plane was flying low before entering “a steep inverted dive.” Others said the plane was turning to the left as it fell.
Information gathered from a hand-held GPS device found in the wreckage showed that after takeoff, the plane “entered into a left turn and never gained more than 418 (feet) of altitude. During the last minute of the flight, the aircraft’s ground speed varied from 95 to 107 knots before the data ended at 11:31 a.m.
Video taken from a car parked near the crash site showed the plane “rotating counter-clockwise as it slammed into a four-lane highway,” the report said.
“The aircraft’s right wing first struck the ground before striking a moving vehicle. The aircraft then skidded down two lanes of traffic, struck a concrete sidewalk, and then spun 180 forwards. to stop on a vacant lot.”
Contact Austin L. Miller at 867-4118, [email protected]