RIVERDALE — The National Transportation Safety Board has released its final findings after investigating why a plane crashed on Interstate 15 in 2017, killing four people.
However, the NTSB ruled it could not determine a cause for the crash other than the pilot having issues during takeoff.
“The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident to be: A loss of control during takeoff for reasons that could not be determined,” the report said.
The July 26, 2017, plane crash claimed the lives of Perry and Sarah Huffaker, along with Layne and Diana Clarke; all four were Weber County residents. The four were departing the Ogden-Hinckley Airport and on their way to West Yellowstone, Montana, when the aircraft crashed in the northbound lanes of I-15.
The final report, made public last week, explained possible reasons for the plane going down, but nothing conclusive. Investigators ruled that there were a handful of factors that likely would have contributed to the plane losing altitude and crashing.
“The pilot chose to operate the airplane under conditions which would have adversely affected its performance, namely, high gross weight, high density altitude, and with a CG (center of gravity) that may have been forward of prescribed limits,” the report says.
Investigators estimated that the plane was nearly at its weight capacity at the time when it took off. They also wrote it was “likely” that the plane’s center of gravity was slightly toward the front, which could result in the nose of the plane being too heavy and an increased stall speed.
After analyzing the plane’s many parts and sifting through the wreckage, investigators ruled it was “unlikely” that there was a loss of power or mechanical failure after takeoff. Despite these findings of fact, investigators said the reason for the pilot’s loss of control after takeoff could not be determined.
Investigators estimated that the weight of the plane at the time of the crash was roughly 3,853 pounds, taking into account the plane’s weight, pilot, passengers, fuel and baggage, according to the report.
According to the most recent weight and balance record for the airplane, which was recorded two years prior to the crash, the maximum gross weight of the plane would be 3,833 pounds, slightly less than what the plane’s estimated weight at the time of the crash.
Many of the details included in the November final report were also included in a factual report published in September.
Factual report says that the airplane’s engine was shipped to a facility in Alabama for a “teardown examination,” but there were no pre-crash abnormalities in any of the internal engine parts. After analyzing the airplane’s fuel pump, investigators again found no pre-accident defects or abnormalities, the report says.
Investigators noted in a preliminary report published shortly after the crash that two aviation mechanics working at the Ogden-Hinckley Airport heard the airplane take off. The two said the plane sounded unusual and that the aircraft was only about 100 feet off the ground when it should have been about 500 feet above the ground. The two told investigators that “the engine sounded under powered and that the tail of the airplane was moving up and down as if the pilot was struggling to keep the airplane airborne,” the preliminary report says.
The report also includes the cause of death to the pilot, later determined to be Layne Clarke, was found to be “multiple blunt and thermal injuries.” A toxicology report was performed by the FAA’s Forensic Sciences Laboratory, and the test came back negative for “drugs, carbon monoxide and volatiles.”
The family of Perry and Sarah Huffaker filed a lawsuit against Eagle Fuel Cells of Eagle River, Wisconsin that was later transferred to the U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City. The complaint alleged product liability, negligence and wrongful death due to the alleged faulty manufacture and operation of a fuel bladder in the airplane.
However in October, the lawsuit was dismissed without prejudice over an issue of jurisdiction, meaning the Huffakers’ family could refile the lawsuit in another state where there the jurisdiction of the company is relevant.
The July airplane crash was the first of two fatal crashes connected to the Ogden airport in 2017.
Near the end of December 2017, two men, Denny Mansell, 71, and Peter Ellis, 74, went missing after family members told police the two had not returned from their flight. Two weeks later, their bodies and the plane were found in the Great Salt Lake. Neither a factual report nor a final report on the crash was available as of Monday afternoon.