Federal agents began combing the
wreckage Saturday of a twin-engine, turboprop airplane that plunged
28,000 feet into a remote wildlife reserve southwest of Bunnell,
killing two people from the Midwest.
A National Transportation Safety
Board agent investigating the site said thunderstorms may have
played a part in the crash, though no official conclusion will be
made for six to 12 months.
Ward Walter, 66, the pilot and
founder of a medical disposal company, was flying with his wife,
Barbara, 64, when the Mitsubishi MU-2 plane went down Friday. They
were traveling from Plainwell, Mich., to a home they owned in the
"What we're looking at really is the
man, the machine, the environment," said Robert Gretz, an
investigator from the agency's New Jersey office.
Agents will study the piloting
experience and record of Walter, Gretz said. They will inspect the
wreckage for any hints of mechanical failure, and will peruse radar
and weather data to see how the elements might have influenced the
Preliminary findings will be
available in five days, Gretz said.
Early data from control towers
indicates the Walters encountered adverse weather and veered off
course, Gretz said. The pilot struggled to keep the aircraft from
losing altitude, and the plane disappeared from the radar about 1:40
The first task, Gretz said, will be
dismantling and removing the wreckage, which will take about two
The bodies of the crash victims were
transported from the site Saturday, Flagler County officials said.
Air traffic officials have reported
that the plane plummeted from 28,000 feet to 8,000 feet in one
minute. The aircraft slammed into the ground so hard, it burrowed
several feet into muck.
An aviation expert said the rapid
nosedive combined with debris found a mile from the wreckage are
strong evidence the plane broke apart in the air.
"Sounds like an in-flight breakup,"
said Bob Breiling, who founded a Boca Raton company that tracks jet
and turboprop accidents. Breiling has flown jets for the U.S. Navy,
a commercial airline and corporate clients.
Two things can cause a plane to bust
apart in the air: heavy turbulence and the pilot pushing the
aircraft beyond a safe speed, he said. It appears that Walter
received guidance from air traffic controllers about steering around
the storms, Breiling said. The big question is whether the
instructions were flawed, or whether Walter failed to follow them
Breiling, who works with Mitsubishi,
said a company official told him Walter had owned the MU-2 a long
time and had logged about 3,000 hours as a pilot, giving him
The MU-2 has about twice the accident
rate of the average turboprop, Breiling said, and not because the
plane is mechanically flawed.
Because it's an older model, it can
be bought at a bargain price, even though the wing design makes it
faster and more challenging to handle than most turboprops, Breiling
said. Pilots aren't required to take simulator training for
turboprops, so they can wind up flying MU-2s unprepared for its
nuances, he said.
Businesses often buy the planes to
haul cargo, he said, and they'll typically hire one pilot instead of
two. Without a backup, a pilot can become overwhelmed in a crisis,
Scott Sobel, a Mitsubishi spokesman
who visited the crash site Saturday, said the MU-2s are sturdy,
When the planes are maintained
properly and the pilots have adequate training, the MU-2's accident
rate is in line with other turboprops in its class, Sobel said.