A preliminary report on a plane crash that killed 18-year-old pilot Elizabeth “Lake” Little in Oxford, Mississippi, July 6, raises questions about whether the young pilot’s instructors adequately trained her for the flight, a Dallas flight instructor told the Memphis Commercial Appeal.
“In summary, what happened to this kid is totally preventable,” Robert Katz, a flight instructor who frequently discusses plane crash investigations with the media, told the Commercial Appeal. “She fell through the cracks of a system that’s supposed to protect student pilots from this kind of catastrophe.”
Mr. Katz based his assessment of the plane crash on a preliminary report by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), which indicates Ms. Little attempted to land the plane on a University-Oxford Airport (UOX) runway with a tailwind. Pilots of small planes are supposed to land against the wind to slow the aircraft.
Mr. Katz told the Commercial Appeal that the critical error leads him to believe that Ms. Little had trouble finding the runway and approached from the wrong direction. The NTSB report noted that her voice sounded “panicked” in her subsequent communications with the control tower.
After the aborted landing, the 1997-model Cessna 172R rose sharply and turned. A witness on the golf course where the plane crashed told the NTSB that the aircraft appeared to be “struggling” to maintain airspeed with its nose up, adding that it seemed to be headed into a stall. The plane then plunged to the ground, hit the golf course, and slid up to a patch of nearby trees.
Ms. Little initially survived the impact with burns and other injuries but died later the same day at a Memphis hospital.
The NTSB’s investigation won’t be complete for several months, but the preliminary report said the plane’s flaps appeared to have been retracted. The flaps are deployed when approaching a runway to provide more lift at lower speeds. Mr. Katz told the Commercial Appeal that he believes the retracted flaps caused the plane to suddenly sink.
Based on the NTSB’s reported findings so far, Mr. Katz said he thinks the Civil Air Patrol and the instructor are responsible for the plane crash.
“We’re talking about children whose parents are trusting the elders in the CAP to set a good example and to protect their children from this kind of malfeasance, in my opinion,” he said.
Ms. Little logged just under 70 hours of flight time before the crash. She flew the plane solo from Golden Triangle Regional Airport (GTR), near Columbus, Mississippi, to Oxford, logging 1.2 hours on the July 6 flight.
The Civil Air Patrol issued a statement saying that it’s too early to reach conclusions about the cause of the plane crash. The agency said that the NTSB’s probe continues and “Any speculation as to why the accident happened is unwarranted.”
In an online message posted shortly after the crash, the Civil Air Patrol National Commander and CEO, Maj. Gen. Mark Smith, grieved the loss of Ms. Little and called on other members to be vigilant of safety.
“My request is that each of us, from a risk management perspective, reflect on the duties assigned to us. Whether we are in steady state CAP activities, involved in cadet special activities or conducting flight activities, let us ensure that our approach to and performance of these duties reflects the high standards of excellence and professionalism to which we are called. Doing so will honor our fallen member and help ensure the safe conduct of our operations.”
Mike Andrews, a lawyer in the firm’s Personal Injury and Products Liability section, focuses much of his practice on aviation accident litigation. He has represented people seriously injured in aviation crashes, and the family of those killed in both civilian and military airplane crashes and helicopter crashes.