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Lack of visibility cited in air crash

August 10, 2002|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

andrews@herald-mail.com

About an hour after poor visibility grounded a pilot flying from Hagerstown to Tennessee on July 26, he took off again, then crashed near Clear Spring, a preliminary report on the accident says.

Roy L. Hess of Pensacola, Fla. - a Waynesboro, Pa., native - died when his plane smashed into Fairview Mountain.

This week, the National Transportation Safety Board made public its preliminary report on the crash.

The report says Hess was flying by visual flight rules - VFR - as he left Hagerstown Regional Airport. However, the sky was foggy not far from the airport, so an air traffic controller advised Hess to file an instrument flight rules - IFR - plan, the report says.

Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Jim Peters in New York compared flying with a VFR plan to driving a car while watching for traffic and using landmarks for assistance. With an IFR plan, a control tower tracks the plane's path using radar and a computer, Peters said. Instruments guide the pilot.

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The NTSB report says Hess left Hagerstown for Chattanooga, Tenn., at about 10 a.m. He told the Hagerstown communications tower he was returning to the airport because he "could not maintain VFR."

At 11:12 a.m., Hess left the airport again. At 11:26 a.m., a Washington Air Route Traffic Control Center controller told the Hagerstown tower that Hess was advised to file an IFR plan, the NTSB report says.

Around that time, a tower controller reported seeing a target on his radar screen about 15 miles southwest of Hagerstown Regional Airport. The target then disappeared from the screen.

Witnesses reported seeing the plane appear out of the clouds and thick fog before it hit the mountain.

A tower controller in Hagerstown said a VFR plan was OK at the airport, but clouds obscured the mountain, the NTSB report says.

NTSB air safety investigator Brian Rayner, who prepared the preliminary report, said Friday that it could be several months before the safety board reads his final report and decides on the cause of the crash. Rayner said he is still waiting to see radar data and hear a tape of communications with the tower.

The plane was inspected in April and certified for IFR flying in May, according to the NTSB report.

When Hess received a medical certificate in August 2001, he had 11,550 hours of flight experience, the report states.

Hess, 71, who was born and raised in Waynesboro, was pronounced dead at the scene of the crash. His sister, Dottie Pollock, said he had been staying in Waynesboro and was returning to Florida.

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