DeKalb County

NTSB report says pilot lost critical tool just moments before deadly plane crash

DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. — Channel 2 Action News has received a new National Transportation Safety Board report about a deadly plane crash. The crash happened less than 2 miles from DeKalb-Peachtree Airport in October.

A blue tarp still covers the townhome complex that the plane hit.

While the new report does not give us a cause, it does give us our best look yet what investigators have to work with to figure that out.

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Channel 2's Aaron Diamant spoke to WSB-TV's engineering manager, Cliff Rogers, who has nearly 100 hours of flying experience on small aircraft.

“This is just the factual report, kind of what they found on the ground. There’s no probable cause, no reasons for anything determined, yet,” Rogers said.

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Channel 2 spent days watching NTSB investigators comb through the wreckage of a single-engine piper PA-28 that slammed into a townhome complex off Peachwood Circle, just minutes after takeoff Oct. 31.

In the NTSB’s report, released Monday, investigators noted that the plane was destroyed, “Following an inflight breakup, and impact.”

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The report ran down the evidence collected onsite, plus key data, including, when controllers told the pilot to turn shortly after takeoff, “The pilot advised that they had ‘lost their vacuum gauge.’”

“So, if that happened, that’s a pretty dangerous situation to have to be in when you’re in the clouds,” Rogers said.

The vacuum gauge controls important instruments in the cockpit that tells a pilot things, such as direction, altitude and whether the plane is pitching up or down, left or right.


“I would hope that they can pull that equipment out of the wreckage, and that they can a lot of times see if it was functioning at the time of the crash or if it wasn’t functioning, so they would know if it was a mechanical failure just based on that,” Rogers said.

In the report, inspectors also noted the plane was destroyed, “Following an inflight breakup, and impact.”

And if the pilot’s instruments failed, it could’ve been disastrous.

“When you have that happen, you can start getting into a turn, you can start trying to correct some things, and you can get what’s called in a ‘death spiral’ to where you’re turning and don’t recognize it, and you’re putting the wrong control inputs in to correct, and it just gets a faster and tighter spiral, and you can put the aircraft in a high speed and a steep descent and in a turn, in a bank, and it can put a lot of forces on the airplane that it wasn’t designed to take,” Rogers said.

In the past, we've seen it take a year or more after a crash for the NTSB to release a final report on a probable cause.