The National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration are still investigating a deadly plane crash in Western North Carolina from March.
The National Transportation Safety Board, or NTSB, released their preliminary report earlier this week., but both agencies tell 7News it could be years before the full details are released.
In a 3 page, preliminary accident report the NTSB outlined Gary Huttleston’s flight plan to fly from Knoxville, Tn., to Aiken, S.C., on March 14.
Less than an hour after take-off, Huttleston sent Air Traffic Control distress signals according to officials.
Shortly after, the plane dropped from the radar over the Whiteside Mountain area of Jackson County, N.C.
The wreckage site was found the next day, on March 15, by rescue teams.
According to the NTSB, Huttleston reported “losing his attitude indicator” and was “unable to maintain course.”
“The attitude indicator is probably the single most important instrument for maintaining a sense of orientation,” said Robert Katz, a Commerical Pilot and FAA Certified Flight Instructor.
Experts tell 7News Huttleston’s statement indicates the vacuum pump failed while in flight.
“Without those 2 instruments a pilot is going to be exceptionally challenged to maintain control of the airplane,” Katz told 7News.
Katz says some planes have a backup. It’s unknown if Huttleston’s 1965 Mooney M20C single-engine private aircraft had the modification.
Operating the backup horizon indicator is not common and requires continuous practice according to Katz. He says it’s a skill many pilots neglect to practice.
“But it’s [one of] those skills that will save your life when the vacuum pump is lost,” he said.
The NTSB report says the crash is consistent with overload failure.
According to the preliminary report findings, the cabin, cockpit, throttle, propeller, and wings were crushed.
“When an airplane goes out of control, it’s not like [it’s] dropping like a stone out of the sky,” Katz told 7News. “It’s being powered into the ground.”
Katz says the tragedy should serve as a reminder to pilots everywhere that it’s important to practice skills they never hope to use while in the sky.
According to the NTSB and FAA, the full report of the crash could take anywhere between 12 to 24 months to be completed.