A 2018 airplane crash that killed three people off the coast of Long Island was likely caused by “flight instrument anomalies” and a sequence of poor decisions made by the pilot, leading to oxygen starvation, confusion, and a loss of control, federal investigators found.

Faulty instrumentation

In its final report of the Oct. 13, 2018, plane crash, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said that the 1978 Piper Seneca airplane had “a known flight instrument anomaly.” Specifically, the aircraft’s directional gyro did not function properly, making it difficult for the pilot to follow air controllers’ instructions.

The pilot also reported having trouble with an “unreliable” altitude indicator and reported that the airplane was “in and out of IMC [instrument meteorological conditions],” the NTSB report says.

Killed in the crash were Munidat “Raj” Persaud, 47, of Waterbury, Connecticut, Richard Terbrusch, 53, of Ridgefield, Connecticut, and Jennifer Landrum, 45, of Gibson, Georgia.

Mr. Persaud was a flight instructor, and owner of Oxford Flight Training school and the Piper Seneca airplane. Mr. Terbrusch was a lawyer whose clients included Thomas Ravenel of Bravo TV’s “Southern Charm,” who was charged with sexual assault. Dr. Landrum was a sales, marketing, and consulting expert who was dating Mr. Terbrusch, according to CTInsider.

The airplane took off from Danbury Municipal Airport in Connecticut on an “instructional flight” and was headed to Charleston, South Carolina. Mr. Terbrusch was listed in the report as the pilot, but the NTSB said “the decision-making on this flight, including the route and response to weather conditions, was most likely performed by the instructor,” Mr.Persaud.

Pilot error, hypoxia

Aside from the faulty instruments, the NTSB found other problems that likely contributed to the plane crash. Investigators said that Mr. Persaud failed to “recognize the significance of widespread ceilings along his route of flight and planned a cruise altitude that took him into instrument conditions.”

In an apparent effort to get above the clouds, Mr. Persaud took the airplane to an altitude of more than 16,000 feet – above the altitude where supplemental oxygen is needed to prevent hypoxia – a condition in which there is not enough oxygen in the blood and tissues to maintain normal mental and physiological functions.

The NTSB report noted that Mr. Persaud did not carry supplemental oxygen onboard the nonpressurized airplane, so it was likely he succumbed to the effects of hypoxia.

“The flight’s erratic flight track away from the intended destination and the instructor’s inability to successfully maneuver the airplane in response to Air Traffic Control instructions that he acknowledged, are consistent with the effects of hypoxia,” the report stated.

The NTSB continued:

“The instructor’s decision to conduct and continue a visual flight rules flight into instrument meteorological conditions with a known flight instrument anomaly, which resulted in spatial disorientation, causing a loss of airplane control and subsequent in-flight breakup. Contributing to the accident were the instructor’s lack of recent instrument flight experience and degraded airplane control and decision-making due to hypoxia.”

Plane looked like “a stunt plane doing spins”

A witness near the plane crash site reported seeing the airplane “nosedive” from out of the clouds and into the ocean after hearing the engine “throttle up severely and wind back down” several times.

A second witness stated that the airplane sounded “as if it were a stunt plane doing spins (pitch changing),” then heard a “pop” and saw pieces of metal descending from the sky.

The plane’s wreckage was found off of Westhampton Beach on Long Island’s Atlantic side. All three of the airplane’s occupants died from “multiple blunt force injuries.”

Beasley Allen lawyer Mike Andrews focuses much of his practice on aviation litigation. Mike has represented people seriously injured in a variety of aviation crashes similar to the one described in this story, and the families of those killed in both civilian and military airplane crashes and helicopter crashes. He currently represents families of Ethiopian Airlines flight 302 victims involving the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft.

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