Fellow pilot looks for answers in Tuesday's plane crash

Tents are set up over the plane crash site as NTSB investigators sift through the wreckage. / Joel Allen

The investigation into what caused a deadly plane crash in north myrtle beach two days ago has moved into a new phase. Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board say their on-site field work is wrapping up and the analysis is beginning.

NTSB investigators aren't the only ones looking for answers.

The man who helped train the pilot has done his own examination of the plane's flight data and final radio contacts.

Kenneth Thode was an experienced flyer, according to flight instructor Bill Leppert, who helped train Thode three years ago.

Leppert has no idea what caused Thode's Cessna 172 to crash at the Briarcliffe RV Resort on Tuesday, killing Thode and Eva Sullivan, who was in a camper trailer.

But Leppert has studied Thode's final radio contacts with the airport control tower and says a couple of transmissions stand out, like his last transmission.

Thode: "Roger that, ah, we're just, got myself a little out of whack here. I'm just trying to get it straightened out."

Leppert isn't sure what that means.

"He's either turned in the wrong direction, or his altitude's changed or something on his flight track is out of the ordinary from what it should be."

But NTSB investigators say part of their probe will look at the 62-year-old Thode's health.

"We'll be receiving a full medical package from the federal aviation administration's civil air medical institute that'll give us the background physiology on the pilot and will also give us information on his medical examinations," said Investigator in Charge Todd Gunther.

Gunther says investigators will now take what's left of the plane to Washington DC, where they can re-examine it under controlled conditions.

They've already laid out the components into what they call a 2-D reconstruction. What they've found out so far is that there's no sign that any of the plane's flight controls, engine or instruments were not working properly.

"We have not found any evidence of any type of pre-impact malfunction or failure of the aircraft," Gunther said.

The pilot's log books have been recovered. Investigators are also gathering fuel records and more air traffic control recordings.

Their preliminary report will be out in a week or so. Gunther said it could take up to a year to complete a statement of probable cause.


Earlier story:

The National Transportation Safety Board held its second news conference Thursday on the plane crash that killed two people Tuesday.

The pilot of the Cessna 172 Sky Hawk, Kenneth Thode, 62, from Plymouth, Massachusetts, was practicing touch-and-go landings when he crashed into an RV at Briarcliffe RV Resort.

His plane hit an RV belonging to a couple from Sunappe, New Hampshire. Eva Sullivan, 70, was killed. Her husband escaped with first degree burns.

NTSB Investigator Todd Gunther says, so far, they've found no evidence of a control system failure, engine failure, or instrument failure.

Investigators recovered the pilot's log books. They're doing what they call a 2-D reconstruction of the aircraft with the major components they've recovered. That's being done on-site.

Now, they'll trace the field records to see how much fuel was on board.

They will also capture the air traffic control recorded data. They haven't seen or heard anything from that yet. But they hope to be able to use that information determine exactly what the plane was doing at the time of the crash.

Gunther says they will issue a preliminary report within seven to nine days.


Earlier story:

The National Transportation Safety Board investigators looking into the plane crash in North Myrtle Beach plan to hold a news conference today.

At a news conference Wednesday, at the scene of the plane crash at the Briarcliffe RV resort, NTSB lead investigator Todd Gunther explained how the investigation will proceed into the crash that killed two people.

The pilot of the Cessna 172 Sky Hawk has been identified as Kenneth Thode, 62, from Plymouth, Massachusetts. The plane was registered to him.

His plane hit an RV belonging to a couple from Sunappe, New Hampshire. Eva Sullivan, 70, was killed. Her husband escaped with first degree burns.

Gunther spoke at the news conference for about five minutes. He said the plane crashed 1.2 miles from the Grand Strand Airport. We previously learned Thode had been practicing touch and go landings at that airport before the crash.

Gunther said the plane hit a tree, then a trailer, and then the RV before catching on fire. He said there was no evidence so far of any in-flight structural failure, control failure, or fire.

In the coming days, the National Transportation Safety Board team will be examining the engines and systems, the weather conditions at the time of the crash, the physiology of the pilot, the structural integrity of the plane, air traffic control radar and voice data, and witness statements.

The wreckage will be taken to a secure facility for a more thorough examination.

Gunther said the team keeps an open mind in any investigation and they don't develop any theories on scene. He said by law they can only deal in facts, conditions and circumstances.

The Federal Aviation Administration will help them look into the pilot's background and flight history.

In seven to ten days, the NTSB will issue a preliminary report detailing the faces and circumstances as they know them at that point.

It will be nine months to a year before a statement of probable cause will be given.

Stay with and NewsChannel 15 as this story develops.

Link to previous updates

Link to Tuesday's coverage