A preliminary report released by the National Transportation Safety Board on Tuesday offers little new information, but does provide some details regarding the final seconds before a fatal Lafayette plane crash that killed five people and injured four others Dec. 28.
The crash happened around 9:20 a.m. near the intersection of Verot School and Feu Follet roads. The pilot and five passengers were headed to the Peach Bowl to see LSU compete against Oklahoma in a national championship playoff semifinal football game. They were expected to land at DeKalb-Peachtree Airport in the Atlanta suburbs around noon.
Killed in the crash were the pilot, Ian Biggs, 51, and four passengers, Robert Vaughn Crisp II, 59; Gretchen D. Vincent, 51; her son, Michael Walker Vincent, 15; and Carley McCord, 30, a sports reporter and daughter-in-law of LSU football offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger.
The only surviving passenger, Stephen Wade Berzas, 37, was listed in serious condition at Our Lady of Lourdes Regional Medical Center as of Monday evening.
Stephen Wade Berzas, the lone survivor of the Dec. 28 plane crash, is slowly recovering at Our Lady of Lourdes Regional Medical Center.
The ill-fated flight lasted less than a minute, according to the NTSB’s preliminary report. The report details the plane's rapid descent after it achieved its peak altitude of 925 feet about 30 seconds into the flight. It was traveling at a speed of about 198 miles per hour. At this point the plane’s wings were angled roughly 35 degrees to the left. Data estimates the plane was rolling to the left at an average rate of 2 degrees per second.
Instead of leveling off, the plane continued to bank left.
At 700 feet, a low altitude alert was issued by the air traffic controller to the pilot with no response, and no mayday or emergency transmissions were received before the crash.
At 600 feet, the plane was falling at an estimated 2,000 to 3,000 feet per minute, equal to roughly 23 to 34 miles per hour. The plane’s wings were angled 70 degrees to the left at that point, the report said.
At 175 feet, less than 20 seconds after reaching its peak altitude, the plane went into a “steep dive” and crashed.
The twin-engine Piper turbo-prop struck trees and power lines on the south side of Verot School Road before crashing onto the roadway and continuing through the parking lot of a nearby Post Office, the report said.
The plane, which was intact when it reached the ground, left a nearly 800-foot path of debris.
The right wing, the outboard left wing, both engines, both elevator controls, the rudder, the instrument panel and the forward cabin all separated from the main fuselage of the plane during impact, the report said. The fuselage is the main body of the plane.
Multiple witnesses told NTSB investigators they saw the plane break through a bank of clouds while traveling at a low altitude, with the wings banking heavily to the left. One witness said the plane’s wings leveled out just before the plane crashed into the tree line, the report said.
Visibility at the time of takeoff was about 3/4 of a mile, wind was 5 knots and the cloud base was about 200 feet, the report said.
During the crash several people on the ground were injured, including Danielle Britt, who suffered burns to 30% of her body after the plane struck the parked car she was sitting in, causing the vehicle to flip multiple times before resting on the roof. Her vehicle then burst into flames, the report said.
Britt continues to recover at a New Orleans hospital.
The NTSB estimates it could take 12 to 18 months to issue a final report on the crash.
Information about the plane’s flight was acquired from the Federal Aviation Administration using Automatic Dependent Surveillance – Broadcast data. The data, including the plane’s position and velocity, was transmitted via satellite through the plane’s navigation system.
Editor's note: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the speed of the plane as it was descending. The Acadiana Advocate regrets the error.