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Report: Plane descended too low prior to crash

Times Observer file photo First responders are pictured Nov. 2, 2020, during the search for a plane that went missing as it approached the Chautauqua County-Jamestown Airport.

A rented plane carrying three Warren County residents descended too low while on its final approach to Jamestown’s airport when it struck the tops of trees and crashed a half-mile from the runway nearly two years ago.

The National Transportation Safety Board this week issued its final report on the Nov. 1, 2020, crash of a Grumman American GA-7. Pilot Alan Fuller, 65 of Warren, and two passengers, Valerie Holmes, 47 of Youngsville, and Linda Edwards, 62 of Pittsfield, died as a result of the accident.

In its nine-page report, the NTSB stated the twin-engine plane had continued below the minimum descent altitude a mile from runway 25 at Chautauqua County-Jamestown Airport resulting in the “controlled flight into terrain.” A review of the wreckage path was consistent with a gradual descent into the trees, the agency said.

Sharon Wagner lost two siblings in the crash, Fuller and Edwards, while Holmes was a longtime family friend. Wagner told the Times Observer her brother was a “very good pilot” who took flying very seriously.

“The accident was not like him at all and I feel the weather and wind played a big role in the crash,” she said. “We would fly anywhere with him — he was a perfectionist in everything he did.”

Fuller, Holmes and Edwards had flown to Burlington, N.C., on Oct. 28 and were set to return Nov. 1.

Prior to the return flight, Fuller had discussed by phone the weather and avoiding icing conditions with his flight instructor.

“The instructor subsequently checked a commercial website and realized that the pilot had departed on the return flight,” the NTSB report states. “He hoped that the pilot would divert due to the poor weather conditions and sent him a text message to that effect.”

While inbound, Fuller provided a report to an air traffic controller that the plane was “in and out of clouds, updrafts, downdrafts, snow, and light-to-moderate turbulence.” He did not note any ice accumulation.

A witness who lives near the airport was hunting in a tree stand that evening when he reported hearing a “loud engine noise” for 10 to 15 seconds followed by silence.

“Later that evening, the witness was notified that there had been an airplane accident and he assisted first responders in their search for the airplane,” the report states. “The witness subsequently observed tops of trees severed where he heard the engine noise increase.”

Following an unsuccessful search that night, the plane’s wreckage was located the following morning in a wooded area a half-mile from the approach end of runway 25.

According to the NTSB, the plane came to rest upright, and the left engine had separated. “The wreckage was fragmented, but all major components of the airplane were accounted for at the scene,” the agency said.

It’s not clear why the plane went below its minimum descent altitude while approaching the airport. An examination of the aircraft after the crash found no pre-impact mechanical malfunctions.

Fuller’s logbook was not recovered from the crash site, and neither his total time nor his recent instrument flight rules experience could be determined by investigators.

According to an insurance application dated October 2018, the pilot had accrued 1,082 total hours of flight experience, of which 37 hours were in actual instrument meteorological conditions. The pilot’s total and recent experience in instrument meteorological conditions at the time of the accident could not be determined.

Toxicology testing on the pilot was performed by the Federal Aviation Administration’s Forensic Sciences Laboratory. The results were negative for drugs and alcohol.

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