Around 9:00pm Wednesday, a small passenger plane, commonly known as a Piper Arrow, was on its way back to Concord, NC where it was rented from, crashed into a North Myrtle Beach home killing all 3 people on board.
How it happened is still unknown, but one thing is known. There was no sign of trouble. "The FAA inspectors on scene did talk with the air traffic control tower and there was no report of an emergency or a problem or anything like that. It was just routine clearance and the radar target dropped off radar," said Bob Gretz, Air Safety Investigator, NTSB.
NTSB officials said Air Traffic Control radars picked up the plane flying around 700 feet last night and instructed the pilot to climb to 6,000 feet. Officials said the pilot acknowledged that instruction and began to climb. Soon after, the airplane dropped off radar with no further communication back to Air Traffic Control. "In an area where we are, once an airplane gets below a certain altitude, it's below radar. So we will not have it on radar. So witnesses can be very helpful in describing the attitude of the aircraft as it was coming down, as it impacted, a description of the aircraft as it was flying, how it was flying," Gretz said.
Besides witness descriptions of what happened, officials hope technology can play a role. They say small planes, like the Piper Arrow, aren't typically equipped with black box devices like commercial planes. But they could have a device with some sort of memory information. The NTSB compared the device to a GPS.
But, Gretz warned, if this plane had one, it may be burnt in the wreckage. "It's always a challenge when there's a post crash fire and you lose evidence when being consumed by fire. There wasn't too much to see today because most of the wreckage was underneath the mobile home."
Friday, investigators will spend more time going through the wreckage and documenting evidence. They also plan to look into the plane's maintenance records. Officials said they'll also focus on the pilot, including his licenses, ratings, and experience, as well as the environment in which he was flying.
The NTSB said it expects to release a preliminary report within 10 days, a factual report within 6 months, and the final report within 6 to 12 months.
To hear from witnesses, including a man who helped rescue the owner of the mobile home, click here.