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Utility pole considered a "hazard" in Thomson crash

Posted: August 3, 2014 - 12:11am

A utility pole near a Thomson airport involved in a fatal plane crash last year was constructed without knowledge of the Federal Aviation Administration and was tall enough to be a flight hazard, according to a National Transportation Safety Board report released Wednesday.

The utility pole has been standing since 1989 without incident, but on the night of Feb. 20, 2013, five people were killed when a Beech­craft 390 Premier collided with the pole after an aborted landing at Thomson-McDuffie County Airport. Those who died all were owners and employees of the Vein Guys, an Evans-based medical practice. The plane crashed on its return flight from Nashville, Tenn., where the company had another clinic.

According to the NTSB factual report, which does not provide a specific cause for the crash, the utility pole was one of several constructed in 1989 by Georgia Power for Milliken and Co. to provide power for the textile plant adjancent to the airport property. These poles were built despite and easement agreement entered in 1977 between Thomson-McDuffie County and Deering Milliken, which stated the company “will not hereafter erect or permit the erection or growth of any structure, trees, or other object” within the approach area of the airport runway, according to the report.

The report noted that the FAA requires prior notification and approval before such structures are built around airports. After the crash, the FAA conducted studies of the poles and determined they “exceeded obstruction standards” were presumed to be “a hazard to air navigation” until a final determination is made.

The report said the 72-foot-tall poles would have to be lowered to a height of no more than 46 feet to be in compliance with obstruction standards.

The plane struck the pole at about 58 feet above ground level after an aborted landing attempt just after 8 p.m. The impact sheered off the plane’s left wing and sent the burning aircraft in to a stand of pine trees.

The utility pole has been a point of contention in civil lawsuits filed in Fulton County Superior Court by the families of those killed in the crash. In addition to Vein Guys co-owner Steven Roth, Kim Davidson, Heidi McCorkle, Tiffany Port­er and Lisa Vol­pitto died. The plane’s pilot, Richard Trammell, and co-pilot, Jeremy Hayden, sustained serious injuries but survived.

Several parties, including the airport’s operators, the city of Thomson, McDuffie County and Roth’s estate, are named as defendants. Others being sued include Georgia Power and parent company Southern Company Services; Milliken & Co., owner of the Kingsley Plant at the end of the runway that had granted easement for the power pole; and The Sky’s The Limit, doing business as Executive Shuttle, which was owned by Trammell and employed both pilots.

In the NTSB report, the co-pilot, Hayden, said after the aircraft’s landing gear was lowered, an “anti skid fail” light flashed on. The plane touched down on the runway, he said, before Trammell announced a “go-around” and ascended. Hayden said he did not know the reason for the go-around.

The plane, however, might not have had enough lift to safely perform the manuever, according to the report.

The Beechcraft has a mechanism known as the “lift dump,” which is engaged on landing, reducing lift to the wings and placing more weight on the landing gear to facilitate braking.

Accident investigators found evidence that the “lift dump” was still engaged when the aircraft attempted to climb over the utility pole in its path. The aircraft’s flight manual warns against using the lift dump in flight. “Extending lift dump in flight could result in loss of airplane control leading to airplane damage and injury to personnel,” it states. “Continued safe flight with lift dump extended has not been demonstrated.”

A final crash report will be ready in the “near future,” said Terry Williams, spokesman for the NTSB.

“It’s not unusual for our investigations to take more than a year, although we do try to wrap them up around the anniversary of a particular accident,” Williams said.

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