An apparent loss of engine power shortly after takeoff led to the fatal plane crash at the Hammond airport earlier this month, the National Transportation Safety Board reported Thursday.
Pilot Desmond Milligan, of Lafayette, and passenger John Harris, of Denham Springs, died in the Oct. 14 crash at the Hammond Northshore Regional Airport.
The cause of the engine failure has not been determined.
The Cessna 421B twin-engine plane was about 100 feet in the air and a little more than halfway down the 6,500-foot runway, making its initial climb, when a witness heard “a loud pop” followed by slowing of the airplane’s right engine and right propeller, according to the NTSB preliminary report released Thursday. A final report on the crash could take a year or more to complete.
“The airplane then yawed to the right,” the report continues. “The witness then saw the airplane begin a right turn toward runway 18,” with its right engine propeller still “windmilling.”
The plane cleared the tree line by about 150 feet, then “rolled and went straight down into the field” north of runway 18, where it exploded and burst into flames, the report states.
Most of the airplane was consumed by the fire, but the primary structure and control surfaces were found within the immediate area of the accident site.
“Both wings had crush damage consistent with a near vertical impact,” the report states.
The landing gear was found in a retracted position, according to the report.
Both engines and propellers, which had separated from the engine, were kept for future examination.
Harris, a 48-year-old aircraft broker, had chartered the plane for a business trip to Atlanta, according to his widow’s attorney, G. Scott Vezina.
Pamela Harris had dropped her husband off at the airport for his flight and returned within minutes of the crash and saw the plane engulfed in flames, Vezina said. One of the couple’s three children was with her.
Air traffic control recordings indicate that the 1973 Cessna, tail number N33FA, was cleared for takeoff headed northwest on the longer of the airport’s two runways just before 3:45 p.m. on Oct. 14.
Less than a minute later, the pilot called “mayday” and was given clearance to make a southbound landing on the other runway.
Vezina said two mechanics at the Hammond Air Center, near the intersection of the two runways, heard the “loud pop” when the engine blew and saw the plane nose-dive into the airfield.
The witness cited in the NTSB report was an airline transport rated pilot, the highest grade certificate issued by the Federal Aviation Administration.