PEMBROKE PINES, Fla. - A small plane sputtered and backfired even before it taxied to a takeoff that ended tragically when it slammed into an SUV, killing both men aboard the aircraft and a 4-year-old boy in the vehicle, a preliminary report released Tuesday shows.
The National Transportation Safety Board report does not say what caused the March 15 crash, which happened moments after the single-engine Beech B36TC took off on a training flight from North Perry Airport in suburban Fort Lauderdale.
The crash killed Yaacov Nahom, 63; Grant Hustad, 71; and young Taylor Bishop, who was riding in the SUV with his mother. Nahom and Hustad were both pilots and officials have not said which man was flying the plane. Taylor's mother survived.
A witness at the airport told investigators that before heading to the taxiway, the plane's engine was sputtering "like a rough idle" and it backfired when the pilot revved the propeller. He said the pilot repeatedly took the engine from low to high power, doing it faster than pilots typically do before taxiing to takeoff.
A pilot on the ground who witnessed the takeoff told investigators the airplane appeared slow and had "a very low climb." He looked away, but then he heard the engine shut down. When he looked back, the plane was about 200 feet past the runway and lower than 300 feet in the air. He said the plane still had its nose up when it began a right turn. The plane quickly stalled, plummeting toward the ground. No distress calls from the pilots were received.
A security camera video shows the plane slicing through the roof of the SUV at a steep angle before slamming into the ground and exploding.
John Cox, a former airline pilot, said the airplane's sputtering and backfiring before takeoff could indicate there were problems with the engine's spark plugs and the pilot was trying to clean them when he revved the propeller. He said the NTSB will inspect the engine for problems and examine why the pilots didn’t scrub the flight.
Cox, the president of Safety Operating Systems, an aviation consulting firm, said the pilot also appears to have erred after the engine failed when he kept the plane's nose pitched upward. That caused the plane to stall and drop uncontrollably into the street and SUV. He said if the pilot had dropped the nose, the plane would have glided and he could have at least kept control as it came to the ground.
NTSB investigations often take a year or more to complete.