Federal authorities investigating a February 20 plane crash near Abilene, Texas, that killed all three people aboard said the pilot reported faulty deicing equipment, a blown breaker, and faulty instruments.

Chase Bellah, the 31-year-old pilot of the twin-engine Beechcraft Super King 8200 airplane, told air traffic controllers that the plane encountered freezing drizzle and ice as it climbed to an elevation of 8,000 feet, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said in its preliminary report of the plane crash.

Equipment failures

According to the March 20 report, the plane climbed through an elevation of 11,600 ft when Mr. Bellah reported he was having trouble with the plane’s deicing equipment. He radioed that he needed to return to Abilene Regional Airport, where the plane had taken off less than 20 minutes before.

The controller directed Mr. Bellah to descend to 7,000 feet and asked him if there was an emergency. Mr. Bellah responded that there wasn’t an emergency. He also stated that the plane blew a breaker during the ascent and that it was not resetting.

Mr. Bellah was then told to descend to 5,000 feet and was given instructions for landing at ABI. When the controller asked Mr. Bellah if he had turned his assigned heading, he reported that the plane was experiencing issues with faulty instruments.

When Mr. Bellah reported an altitude of 4,700 feet, the controller instructed him to maintain an altitude of 5,000 feet. Mr. Bellah replied that he was “pulling up.” That was the last transmission controllers received from the plane.

The plane crashed in open ranchland near Lake Coleman, Texas, killing Mr. Bellah, and two passengers: Cleve Whitener, 70, and Gary Morrison, 65, according to KTXS 12.

Possible disorientation

The NTSB report said that “instrument meteorological conditions prevailed” during the flight, so Mr. Bellah was likely relying on instruments to guide him through visually poor conditions.

A general aviation pilot told Abilene’s KTAB that if the instruments are lost in those conditions, the situation becomes extremely dire and recovery is extremely difficult, if not impossible.

The flight-tracking website FlightAware.com shows the plane made more than one 360-degree turn, indicating Mr. Bellah may have lost spatial awareness without his instruments.

“In the airplane you can’t tell a pull up — it pushes you down in the seat — from a turn, which pushes you down in the seat,” the pilot told KTAB. “Your kinesthetic senses won’t work in the air. The only thing you can do, you’ve gotta fly the instruments in the airplane,” the pilot added.

The airplane was registered to TLC Air, LLC and operated by Lauren Engineers & Constructors, Inc. It was headed to Valley International Airport in Harlingen, Texas.

The NTSB continues to investigate the plane crash. It normally takes investigators 12-18 months to wrap up a plane crash investigation and issue a final report.

Beasley Allen lawyer Mike Andrews focuses much of his practice on aviation litigation and currently represents families of Ethiopian Airlines flight 302 victims. In addition to his Ethiopian Airlines crash clients, Mike has represented people seriously injured in a variety of aviation crashes, and the families of those killed in both civilian and military airplane crashes and helicopter crashes.

Additional sources:

Kathryn’s Report

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