NTSB: Weather seemed key to Nov. CL plane crash
CRYSTAL LAKE – A report released this week provides more details about a plane crash near Crystal Lake that killed four people last November.
It focuses largely on the poor weather conditions at the time of the Nov. 26, 2011 crash and the pilot's experience and qualifications for flying in those conditions.
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 hit a tree and crashed in a farmfield near Crystal Lake.
Harris was flying Ramie back to Wheaton College, where she attended school.
Before taking off that morning, Harris told an employee at Marion Municipal Airport in Indiana that he was aware of the weather conditions West of Chicago. He said he expected to land at DuPage Airport in West Chicago under conditions that would allow him to fly by visual flight rules.
"An Airmen's Meteorological Information advisory warning of possible [Instrument Flight Rules] conditions was valid at the time of the accident flight," according to a factual report by the National Traffic Safety Board released earlier this week.
Harris, who got a private pilot's license in April 2010, didn't have an instrument rating, which would have allowed him to fly by instruments and land in less than ideal weather conditions.
There was no evidence that Harris had actually checked the weather conditions before the flight.
The report said there was no record he had "contacted flight service for a formal pre-flight weather briefing" or that he had "logged into the Direct User Access Terminal Service to obtain weather or flight information."
Harris accidentally flew over DuPage Airport and then lost sight of it. He then told air traffic controllers that he would land at Chicago Executive Airport, which was operating under visual flight rules, about 20 miles away.
At one point, Harris said, “I’ve let this get around me,” when asked by controllers whether 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. At that point, he was about 2.5 miles west of Lake in the Hills Airport.
Harris acknowledged a frequency change, but controllers didn't hear from him again, according to the report.
Two witnesses told investigators they heard what sounded like a plane doing aerobatics – climbing and then descending – before the crash. Both said they saw the plane come out of the clouds headed nearly straight down.
The plane hit a tree before crashing in the field leaving a 400-foot long debris field. A ticket for the following day's Indianapolis Colts football game was found among the debris, according to the report.
Harris had logged 207 hours of flight time, but a section of the report regarding the pilot's qualifications raised several questions about his log book.
For example, it noted that of the 42 hours he logged as both pilot-in-command and dual instruction, "38.1 hours were not endorsed by a flight instructor, which is required by regulations."
Investigators didn't find any indication of mechanical problems with the plane or that it had malfunctioned before the crash, the report said. According to toxicology reports, Harris tested negative for any drugs or alcohol.
The NTSB report didn’t pinpoint the cause of the fatal crash.
Andy Darlington, manager at the Marion Municipal Airport, previously said Harris had started some initial training for an instrument flight license, but wasn’t training on a set schedule.
“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 told the Associated Press in December. “Who knows what happened when he got in the clouds, but he definitely got in the clouds.”
The factual report is posted online at www.ntsb.gov.
• The Associated Press contributed to this report.