A private plane that crashed into an Atlanta townhome complex last month, killing two people, could have been the result of a mechanical failure, a National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) report indicates.

The single-engine Piper PA-28 plane took off from DeKalb-Peachtree Airport Oct. 30 bound for Mid-Carolina Regional Airport in Salisbury, North Carolina. Shortly after takeoff, the airplane plummeted into the Clairmont Hills Townhouses and exploded, killing Leslie Csanyi, 59, and Scott Robert Lowrie, 60, of Salisbury, North Carolina.

The NTSB, the agency leading an investigation of the plane crash, released a report Nov. 18 that offers some additional details. Investigators haven’t provided any probable cause for the crash at this stage, but facts gathered so far indicate the airplane may have experienced a crippling mechanical failure.

According to the report, air traffic controllers directed the pilot to fly east toward Athens, Georgia. The plane twice turned around and headed south. After the second turn, the pilot of the plane radioed that they had “lost their vacuum gauge.” The plane was flying at an altitude of 5,000 feet when it turned northeast briefly and entered a right turn, rapidly descending to 3,700 feet.

The controller instructed the pilot to maintain “wings level” an altitude of 4,000 feet, but the pilot did not respond. The controller attempted to contact the pilot multiple times without a response until radar contact with the plane was lost.

The NTSB notes that the plane was destroyed “following an inflight breakup, and impact.” The breakup of a plane could occur during flight if it enters into a spiral that puts excessive force on the aircraft. Without the vacuum gauge, pilots can lose critical flight information, such as flight direction, altitude, and whether the plane is pitching up or down and left or right.

The loss of this information could be especially disorienting to a pilot in poor weather conditions. The plane took off from DeKalb-Peachtree about 10:30 a.m. in less than ideal conditions. Atlanta’s WSB-TV Channel 2 reported that there were low-lying clouds in the region with a visibility of about three miles at the time of the crash. NTSB officials, however, have not made any determination that weather conditions played a role.

It can take the NTSB a year or two to wrap up an investigation and issue a final report.

According to WSB-TV, the row of townhomes that the Piper airplane struck remains covered in a blue tarp. Six of the townhomes in the complex were structurally damaged, forcing occupants to find shelter elsewhere.

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 families of those killed in both civilian and military airplane crashes and helicopter crashes. Currently, Mike represents family members of victims in the Ethiopian Airlines crash involving the Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft.

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