Sheila Vilvens, Cincinnati Enquirer
The airplane that crashed in Madeira March 12 killing its pilot was known to have a fuel leak in the left wing.
During the day of the crash, pilot David Sapp, 62 reported to air traffic control he was having a “fuel problem.” At one point he asked air traffic control for a “direct” to Lunken Airport and a lower altitude. The controller provided the position of Dayton-Wright Brothers Airport, which at the time was just eight miles from Sapp’s position. This all according to a preliminary report filed by the National Transportation Safety Board.
Sapp again requested to continue to Lunken. The flight originated from Lunken that day shortly before 11 a.m. No flight plan was filed, but the NTSB report indicates that the airplane flew several surveying tracks outside of Cincinnati before heading north to Dayton to fly tracks in that area.
When the pilot checked in with the subsequent air traffic controller, he reported that the fuel issue was resolved, the report said. Seven miles north of Lunken, the pilot established contact with the tower controller, at which time he advised that he was experiencing a fuel problem and he did not think it was going to reach the airport.
The airplane had slowed to a ground speed of 80 knots, the report said. Before the air traffic controller noted a simultaneous loss of radar and radio contact, the plane crashed in the backyard of a home in Madeira.
“A relative of the pilot reported that the pilot told him the airplane ‘had a fuel leak and it was killing his sinuses’ about 1 week prior to the accident,” according to the report. A company employee told investigators that the airplane had a fuel leak in the left wing.
The airplane was due to be exchanged with another airplane the week before the crash occurred so that the fuel leak could be isolated and repaired, the report said.
“The accident airplane remained parked for a few days, was not exchanged, and then the accident pilot was brought in to continue flying the airplane,” according to the report.
Sapp was flying commercially for a Mississippi-based aerial photography company, MARC Inc.
A man who answered the phone at the business shortly after the crash said he couldn’t comment because of the ongoing investigation. He declined to give his name but said, “We’re so damn sorry about what happened. It’s just unbearable.”
Robert Katz, of Dallas, Texas, is a flight instructor and pilot of 38-years who tracks plane crashes across the nation. He placed the blame for the crash on the pilot.
The NTSB report offers insights, he said.
“David Jon Sapp was flying out of compliance with regulation and made very foolish choices on that day which cost him his life and easily could have victimized many others on the ground,” he said.
The first problem is the pilot knew the plane had a problem before he took it off the ground, Katz said. He should not have been flying the plane. No one should have.
He also refused to land at a nearby airport, instead opting to return to his airport of origin.
There’s an axiom that pilots don’t appreciate that is, “We don’t have to fear what we know is wrong with our airplane. We should fear what we don’t know is going to happen next,” he said.
“Whenever a problem presents itself in an airplane, we should always expect it to get worse,” Katz said. “The clock begins ticking against the pilot to get the airplane on the ground safely. The window of opportunity to use available options will usually close very quickly.”
The preliminary report of the crash is the first of three that will be filed by the NTSB. A factual report is expected to come out in several months. A report with a finding of probable cause which will discuss the final findings is not expected to be released for one to two years.