The crash of a law enforcement plane that killed both the pilot and a deputy sheriff in Tulare County last year was partly caused by sun glare in the pilot’s eyes, according to the final accident report by the National Transportation Safety Board.
The plane was also overweight.
The crash Feb. 10 near Springville claimed the lives of pilot James Chavez, 45, and Deputy Scott Ballantyne, 52.
Sheriff Mike Boudreaux said Friday he met with the families of both victims to review the findings, which were released Wednesday.
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“What we did learn that was new to us was the glare of the sun,” Boudreaux said. “We had no idea about that.”
What we did learn that was new to us was the glare of the sun.
Mike Boudreaux, Tulare County sheriff
The report also said the plane was 152 pounds overweight, a contributing factor because it caused the plane to go into a stall at a higher speed.
The accident happened at about 4:17 p.m. when the sun was not far above the horizon.
The Flight Design light sport aircraft was on a low-altitude observation flight, the report said.
About one minute before the accident, it was flying west over a highway about 500 feet off the ground. The plane went into a left turn, then the wings dipped left and right and the plane hit the ground, with the engine operating in a steady tone until impact. A fire destroyed the plane.
Another pilot who flew in the vicinity right after the accident said that due to sun and haze, “he could not distinguish the tops of the hills to the left of the highway from the sky,” the report states.
“It is likely that the accident pilot was partially blinded by sun glare and did not see the hills arising above him on his left,” the report states.
I miss my brother. Nothing can bring him back.
After the pilot turned to move away from the sun, “it is likely that the rising terrain suddenly came into view,” the report said.
When the pilot turned more steeply to avoid hitting the hill, the plane went into a stall. The plane was too low to the ground for the pilot to recover, the report said.
Boudreaux said the plane was flying between two hills and the pilot turned to avoid the glare, but “he doesn’t realize how close he is” to the hill, turned and went into a stall.
“It’s like over-correcting your car and losing control,” he said.
John Ballantyne, Scott Ballantyne’s brother, said the report shows that the pilot made “a horrible mistake that had dire consequences … It was just a tragic accident … I miss my brother. Nothing can bring him back.”
He said he hopes the air unit learns from the tragedy and resumes its flight program.
Boudreaux said the air unit has acquired a nearly identical plane that will be ready for use in a month or two. But new policies are in place in which it will only be used over flat terrain at an altitude of 1,000 feet, he said.
He said the department plans to get a Cessna for use in foothill and mountain areas.