Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board say a “mayday” call was radioed from the aircraft moments before it plummeted to the ground and crashed in Warren County last month, killing both passengers.
The owner of the plane, Tommy Stiles of McMinnville, and flight instructor Larry Banks of Spencer, both died in the crash.
The reason for the crash remains under investigation and a final report on what caused the accident will not be available for about 18 months. However, in a preliminary report filed by the NTSB, investigator in charge Heidi Kemner revealed a mayday call was made to the tracking station in Memphis, meaning the occupants knew they were in desperate straits moments before the crash.
“The radar target reached 5,000 feet and turned,” Kemner said in her report. “Then, one of the pilots declared a mayday and the radar target was observed in rapid descent before it was lost.”
Emergency personnel found the burning wreckage in a bean field off Sherrell Road just before 7 p.m. on Nov. 7. The plane slammed into the field, causing a two-foot-deep crater before coming to rest upright nearby.
The crash came after the pilot aborted an approach into Warren County Memorial Airport.
“The airplane executed a missed approach and requested a clearance to Upper Cumberland Regional Airport (Sparta),” said Kemner, with the reason for the missed approach unknown.
Upper Cumberland reportedly has better technology for landings using instruments.
According to the flight plan filed when the men took off from Monroeville, Ala., that afternoon, they were flying by instruments. Only Banks was certified for instrument flight.
As for why the plane ended up in the Jacksboro area when it crashed, pilots familiar with Warren County Memorial Airport say it would not be unusual for a plane that overshot the local airport to fly to that location as they executed a turn around. In the case of the Stiles aircraft, the pilots had set a new path to Sparta.
Investigators did not reveal what they think caused the wreck in their preliminary report. They did reveal that witnesses reported hearing the engine become loud as the plane passed overhead and that it throttled up just prior to the crash.
There was light rain the night of the crash. Investigators estimate the visibility was just over two miles and the clouds were about 500 feet above the ground.