Media Archive

NTSB: No evidence of problems with plane before crash

Article from Bangor Daily News, Friday, August 20, 2004

By Doug Kesseli
of the NEWS Staff

Wreckage of the single-engine airplane that crashed Aug. 12 in a remote area of Piscataquis County showed no evidence of pre-crash problems with the engine or frame, federal investigators said Thursday.Kathy Hodgkins, 47, a veteran pilot who had flown both commercial and small private aircraft, died when the Cessna she was piloting crashed into Big Houston Mountain, about nine miles northwest of Brownville Junction.

She was on her way from Glenburn to Lobster Lake, a trip of about 75 miles, to pick up passengers. The crash occurred about 7:30 a.m.

Thursday's preliminary report by the National Transportation Safety Board does not contain a likely cause for the accident.

Paul Cox, an investigator with the NTSB, said he does not know when a cause would be determined.

The wreckage was found the day after the crash 21/2 miles from the Katahdin Iron Works gate at an elevation of 1,320 feet. That's less than 300 feet from the summit.

Searchers said it appeared that Hodgkins flew right into the mountain, with a state warden reporting last week that Hodgkins had kept the seaplane stable until she approached the mountain.

The preliminary report by the NTSB indicated that the cloud level in the area was at about the elevation Hodgkins was flying. Cloud level at Millinocket Municipal Airport - about 30 miles away - was about 1,100 feet a half-hour after the crash, according to the report. Visibility at the time was about three miles.

Two inspectors from the Federal Aviation Administration as well as a representative of Cessna conducted an on-scene examination, with Cox, who was not at the scene, drafting the preliminary report this week.

The plane crashed through trees 60 to 80 feet high, leaving a 200-foot path of wreckage and damage.

"The wreckage was highly fragmented," the report stated.

The propeller remained attached to the engine, although both blades showed "scratching, twisting and S-bending," indicating the propeller and engine were still turning as the plane crashed. And there were no immediate visible causes of a malfunction that could have caused the crash.

"There was no evidence of any pre-impact anomalies to either the engine or the airframe," according to the report.

The fire that resulted from the crash destroyed the cabin, including the instrument panel and contributed to Hodgkins' death. The engine was damaged by fire and heat.

When the crash site was discovered the next day, searchers reported that rain had washed out logging roads and bridges, making the search even tougher. Mark Latti, spokesman for the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, said radar reports helped determine Hodgkins' last known location and speed, narrowing the search area.

"That's where we concentrated our search," Latti said.

It wasn't clear whether the emergency locator transmitter required in aircraft went off and if so how long it sent signals before going silent.

NOTE - This article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of the TRC Alliance Team.