Report gives few clues to cause of CL plane crash
CRYSTAL LAKE – The pilot of a plane that crashed last month near Crystal Lake, killing four people, was hampered by poor weather conditions in the minutes before the accident, according to a report.
Indiana businessman Ray Harris was flying with his daughters, Ramie and Shey, and 22-year-old Chris Backus, a friend of one of the daughters, when the plane crashed Nov. 26. Harris was flying Ramie back to Wheaton College, where she attended school.
Harris had planned to land at DuPage Airport in West Chicago, but flew over the airport and lost sight of it, according to a preliminary report from the National Transportation Safety Board.
Harris got a private pilot license in April 2010 and had logged 205 hours of flight time. He didn't have an instrument rating, which would have allowed him to fly by instruments and land at DuPage Airport, the report said.
After flying over DuPage Airport, he told air traffic controllers that he would land at Chicago Executive Airport, which was operating under visual flight rules, about 20 miles away, according to the report. He also told controllers that he didn't want to land at DuPage "because he did not want to 'get in there and get stuck all day' due to the weather," the report said.
At one point Harris said, "I've let this get around me," when asked by controllers if he was instrument flight rules qualified, the report said.
But later, about 10:12 a.m., he told controllers that he didn't "want to mess with the weather" and wasn't going to land at Chicago Executive Airport. Controllers didn't hear from him again, according to the report.
The plane crashed in a farm field in unincorporated McHenry County near Crystal Lake shortly before 10:30 a.m.
The preliminary report can be found here: http://www.ntsb.gov/aviationquery/brief.aspx?ev_id=20111126X22009&key=1.
A final report can take several months to a year to complete, NTSB officials previously told the Northwest Herald.
A witness told investigators that "it sounded like the plane was doing aerobatics, with the plane climbing and descending," the report said. Seconds later, the witness saw the plane heading nose-down toward the ground at a 70-degree angle, according to the report.
The plane hit a tree before landing in the field.
The preliminary NTSB report didn't pinpoint the cause of the fatal crash or mention the plane's parachute, a life-saving safety feature. The parachute had deployed and was caught on a tree when police and firefighters arrived at the scene.
Tim Sorensen, an NTSB air safety investigator, told The Chronicle-Tribune he didn't know why Harris chose not to land at either airport and that it wasn't clear whether Harris would've been stuck by the weather.
"We have not found any issue with the airplane," Sorensen said. "The required inspections were documented, and the post-accident examination didn't reveal any anomalies. We don't have any evidence of a malfunction with the aircraft or engine, at least at this point."
Andy Darlington, manager at the Marion Municipal Airport, said Harris had started some initial training for an instrument flight license, but wasn't training on a set schedule.
"That was something he was definitely planning on doing," he said. "Once you get your private pilot's license, that's the next step, so he was doing a lot of pleasure flying and building up time."
Darlington said the weather was good in Marion when Harris left that day to fly his daughter Ramie back to Wheaton College.
"Everything that we're hearing makes it sound as though he ended up in the clouds, and without the proper training and without the rating, you can get yourself in trouble," Darlington said. "Who knows what happened when he got in the clouds, but he definitely got in the clouds."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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