NTSB investigates local pilot's fall - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

NTSB investigates local pilot's fall

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COLLEGEDALE, TN (WRCB) - We're learning new details about the investigation into the death of a local pilot. The initial findings of the National Transportation Safety Board show the flight instructor was trying to secure the canopy of the plane, when it flung open. The report shows the plane took a dive, and that's when David Richardson fell out of the plane. He was laid to rest Thursday.

The men were flying an experimental amateur-built plane. Private pilot David Richardson was flying with an instructor to familiarize himself with his newly purchased plane.      

The NTSB report shows the engine wouldn't start, so they opened the canopy and yelled down for a battery charge. It says Richardson unbuckled his seat belt to help, but ground crews told him he wasn't needed. The head pilot said he thought he heard Richardson's seat belt click back, but couldn't see it. They closed the canopy back and took off.

Several minutes later, Richardson fell 2,500 feet to his death.

The Zodiac 601 was the plane the men were flying. It was built by 82-year-old Clarence Andrews who died last December in a plane crash not far from the Collegedale Airport. His family sold the aircraft to David Richardson earlier this month.

The NTSB report shows within five minutes of last Friday's take off, the flight instructor "heard a wind noise from behind their heads." As they headed back to the Collegedale Airport, he "could see daylight through the openings between the canopy and the fuselage."

"The canopy malfunctioned and came off the aircraft and as a result, one of the two pilots aboard was ejected from the aircraft," Bradley County Sheriff's Office Spokesperson Bob Gault said.

"Back across Weatherly Switch right here and Lead Mine Valley, both of those roads is where we found the victim," Bradley County Fire and Rescue Chief Troy Spence said.

The Zodiac 601 is considered popular for being an "easy-build and affordable." It was the focus of a special FAA review in 2009, investigating several in-flight structural failures. They determined a coupling of potential design and operational problems.

A safety alert went into effect, requiring the Zodiac designer to make changes along with educating pilots on it. That list includes the option to double latch the canopy, to slow down if it comes loose, and do not try closing it mid-flight.

"We have a lot of rules and regulations and they're all out there for a good reason," Hixson Museum of Flight Board of Directors President Peter O'Hare said.

O'hare isn't familiar with the Zodiac, but is with flying experimental planes.

"After 32 years, you think, what happened? That's the first things you want to know. How did it happen? What can I do to prevent it from happening again," O'Hare said.

He keeps a close eye on NTSB reports like this latest one to reduce his risk in the skies. He says they're constantly updating procedures in response to tragic stories like this one.

In the NTSB's investigation into Richardson's death, inspectors determined the Zodiac's canopy and seat belts did not show any failures. This was the preliminary report, and could change before the final report is released, which may take weeks.

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