All three passengers aboard a four-seater airplane died Tuesday when the plane crashed in a field at the doorstep of Warren County Airport.
The identities of the passengers, all out-of-town residents, have not been released pending notification of their families.
Two women and one man, all in the military, were aboard the single-engine Piper airplane, according to Warren County Sheriff Tommy Myers. The plane is registered to Lebanon Flying Club. It crashed at 11:30 a.m. in a 50-acre field off Airport Lake Road. The field is owned by Jerry Wiser, who was on a tractor mowing at the time and heard the plane crash directly behind him.
“I really didn’t see anything,” said Wiser. “I heard a crash, a really loud crash. When I turned around there was a plane sitting right behind me. I didn’t expect to see that at all.”
The plane crashed about 100 feet directly behind Wiser’s tractor. He said a person who was working on a nearby barn jumped a fence and rushed to the wreckage with him.
“It was smoking a little when we first got to it,” said Wiser. “I called 911 and was using my knife to cut the seatbelt off one of them when first-responders arrived.”
While Wiser didn’t see the crash, he said the person working on the barn did and he described the plane as “falling out of the sky.”
First-responders used the Jaws of Life to remove the top of the plane to get the occupants out.
Wiser’s property joins Warren County Airport property and the runway is clearly visible from the crash site. The National Transportation Safety Board was called to investigate.
According to FlightAware, which tracks flights, the plane took off Tuesday morning in Lebanon at 10:20 a.m. and made an 11-minute flight to Murfreesboro Municipal Airport. It took off in Murfreesboro at 10:53 a.m., according to FlightAware, and was last monitored at 11:18 a.m. near McMinnville.
What could have caused the plane to crash is open to speculation. According to FlightAware, the plane was cruising around 1,800 feet and around 108 mph for most of its trip from Murfreesboro. That altitude is about the lowest that’s advisable to fly, according to a veteran local pilot.
The plane crashed in a field and didn’t appear to strike any objects, which is what you want to happen if forced to make an emergency landing. You want to find a large, open area, if forced to make an emergency landing, and avoid hitting anything such as trees, cows or hay bales.
It’s not known if the engine stopped or ran out of fuel. If the engine did stop, it’s possible for the plane to glide safely to the ground provided it doesn’t lose too much speed. If the plane goes too slow, it prevents proper airflow across the wings, which is what keeps the plane in the air.
If the plane “fell out of the sky” the most likely scenario is it was making a banked curve and “spun out.” This is similar to what happens in a car when the back end spins around.
If this happens with a plane, proper airflow over the wings stops. The plane can then drop straight down like an elevator. It’s possible to recover from such a spin out, the veteran pilot noted, but not at 1,800 feet.
According to FlightAware, the plane has flown frequently in recent days. It was in the air on Monday and Saturday.
The NTSB can take months to complete a crash investigation.