A National Transportation Safety Board report about the airplane crash that killed a Tulare County sheriff’s deputy and a pilot last year said the airplane apparently fell almost straight down before the crash.
“The initial impact was consistent with a high vertical energy component and very little forward velocity energy component,” the report states.
On Feb. 10, 2016, the aircraft used by the Tulare County Sheriff’s Office went down near Springville, killing pilot James Chavez and deputy Scott Ballantyne.
The cause of the crash is still unknown, but the report indicates that investigators are examining whether the plane stalled.
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The airplane made a left turn, the wings dipped left and right, then the airplane descended into the ground
National Transportation Safety Board
The report does not state the cause of the crash and should not be used to draw a conclusion, said NTSB spokesman Eric Weiss.
The report and accompanying documents will be used by investigators in writing a probable-cause report that will come out later, he said.
The report, issued last week, has “all the facts compiled during the investigation,” Weiss said. “We’ll use these facts as the basis for the analysis and finding of probable cause.”
It could be weeks or months before the final report is issued, he said.
The Sheriff’s Office is not commenting on the report.
“We will wait to comment until the final report from NTSB is made available,” sheriff’s spokeswoman Teresa Douglass said Thursday.
The report says the plane was flying at low altitude, made a hard left turn and descended into the ground 4 miles southwest of Springville. The airplane hit a hill, caught fire and was destroyed.
The written part of the report is five pages, of which five paragraphs discuss aircraft stalls. An aircraft may stall at higher speeds “when excessive maneuvering loads are imposed by steep turns, pull-ups, or other abrupt changes in its flight path,” the report states, quoting the Federal Aviation Administration’s airplane flying handbook.
Several witnesses saw the plane just before it crashed, and some saw the plane hit the ground.
“Witnesses reported seeing the airplane circling a nearby area at a low altitude, then depart to the southwest,” the report said. “While flying in a westerly direction, the airplane made a left turn, the wings dipped left and right, then the airplane descended into the ground in a sideways wing-down orientation. The engine was heard operating in a steady tone until ground impact.”
The report put to rest early speculation that it might have hit another airplane. Some witnesses reported seeing a yellow single-engine airplane in the vicinity.
The Sheriff’s Office found the pilot of a yellow airplane from Bakersfield, the report said. The pilot said he had flown over the accident site and observed first responders but had not seen the accident.
The aircraft, called Sheriff One, was a Flight Design CTLS, a light sport aircraft designed for use by law enforcement.
The pilot, Chavez, 45, held an airline transport pilot certificate and a flight instructor certificate. He had flown the sheriff’s airplane for 1,002 hours and had a total of 3,675 flight hours, mostly in single-engine airplanes.
The deputy, Ballantyne, 52, had been employed for about 27 years and was assigned to the air unit for about a year as an observer and video camera operator.