Air Safety Investigators Release Report on Fatal Danville Plane Crash

Dr. Scott Banuelos

Danville, VA - Air safety investigators for the National Transportation Safety Board have released a preliminary report regarding the plane crash in Danville that killed one person.

Dr. Scott Banuelos, a student pilot, was flying a Pipe Warrior II plane when it crashed at Danville Regional Airport last Thursday.

The 35-year-old was making a solo flight with his instructor watching from the ground when a wing on the plane hit a tower and crashed.

A funeral for Dr. Banuelos was held Friday at Sacred Heart Catholic Church, and more than 100 family, friends, and colleagues came out to mourn his death.

The plane crash that killed the General Aviation student left many unanswered questions, but a preliminary report from the NTSB is putting some of the pieces together.

"The process is quite extensive. We're looking at multiple things: the man, the machine and the environment," said Shawn Etcher with the NTSB.

The report says Banuelos had taken off and landed successfully two times. But on his third landing attempt, he struck a tower antenna, severing the left wing.

The crash happened around 7:41 p.m., but Averett's Chief Flight Instructor says it is not strange for students to make solo flights that late in the evening.

"Kind of towards the dusk or right after sunrise in the morning. Typically that's a good time to solo because the winds are nice and calm," said Travis Williams.

Williams also says it isn't odd for a student to not be in communication with the instructor during the flight. Williams communicates with his students by radio, but says it isn't required by federal regulations.

"You don't necessarily have to be in contact on the radio because they have shown you that they can handle any situation."

Williams says as an instructor, tragedies like this are hard to get past. But he says making sure students are fully prepared is the key.

"You're never going to be 100 percent sure that something is not going to happen, but you just have the confidence that you've trained them well and they can do what they need to do."

Here is the report released by the NTSB Friday:

NTSB Identification: ERA13FA385
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Thursday, August 29, 2013 in Danville, VA
Aircraft: PIPER PA-28-161, registration: N9089N
Injuries: 1 Fatal.

This is preliminary information, subject to change, and may contain errors. Any errors in this report will be corrected when the final report has been completed. NTSB investigators either traveled in support of this investigation or conducted a significant amount of investigative work without any travel, and used data obtained from various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.

On August 29, 2013, about 1941 eastern daylight time, a Piper PA-28-161, N9089N, was destroyed when it impacted an antenna and terrain adjacent to runway 2 and a postaccident fire ensued at Danville Regional Airport (DAN), Danville, Virginia, following a go-around maneuver. The student pilot, the sole occupant, was fatally injured. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed and no flight plan was filed for the local solo flight. The training flight was conducted under the provisions of Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91.

According to the student pilot's flight instructor, the student pilot was flying the airport pattern on a supervised solo flight. Eyewitnesses observed the airplane attempt two landings preceding the accident landing attempt. During the first landing attempt, the airplane was seen at a very low altitude when it banked sharp left and sharp right before initiating a go-around maneuver. The airplane landed successfully during its second attempt and after making a full stop, the airplane taxied back to takeoff position and departed uneventfully. The airplane completed the airport traffic pattern; however, during landing the airplane banked to the left and struck the ILS antenna, severing the left wing from the airplane. The airplane subsequently impacted the ground and came to rest inverted.

The wreckage path was about 183 feet long and oriented about 357 degrees magnetic. The initial impact location was indicated by several broken metal bars from an instrument landing system (ILS) glide slope antenna 39.5 feet above ground level. The left wing exhibited impact damage at the wing root along the leading edge section of the wing and was collocated with the ILS antenna. Ground scars, along with the propeller spinner and both blades, were located along the wreckage path about 131 feet past the ILS antenna. The main portion of the wreckage consisted of the fuselage and right wing and was located about 32 feet beyond the propeller ground scar and next to taxiway "A." The fuselage came to rest inverted and was oriented 129 degrees magnetic. Both propeller blades exhibited impact damage. One blade was slightly bent forward between the mid span point and blade tip with the blade tip bent aft and the other blade exhibited a slight forward bend. Both blades contained leading edge gouging.

According to the United States Naval Observatory, Astronomical Application Department Sun and Moon Data, the official sunset was at 1950 and the end of civil twilight was 2016.