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Federal investigators arrive at fatal plane crash site

Posted July 13, 2010

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— Federal investigators arrived in Chapel Hill Tuesday at the site of a plane crash near the University of North Carolina, in which one person was killed and two others were injured.

A single-engine Cirrus SR 20, registered to Tom Pitts of Wilmington, Del., crashed shortly before 3 p.m. Monday at Horace Williams Airport, killing Pitts and injuring two others.

Keith Holloway, a spokesman for the National Transportation Safety Board, said investigators will examine the aircraft and wreckage, gather information from witnesses and collect weather data to determine what happened.

They will also take a closer look at a parachute found at the scene to determine how it was deployed – whether the pilot released it, if it was released because of a malfunction or if it was dislodged during the impact of the crash.

It could be 10 days before preliminary findings are available, he said. Final reports typically take about 12 to 18 months, he said.

Randy Young, a spokesman for the UNC Department of Public Safety, said it appeared that the plane was arriving from the west and that it crashed and came to rest in a set of trees and a perimeter fence just off the runway.

The others on the plane, Kyle Henn and Jim Donahue, were being treated Tuesday afternoon at UNC Hospitals.

Henn, 22, who was listed in fair condition, suffered cuts and bruises to his legs. Donahue, who was co-piloting the plane, was listed in critical condition with injuries to his legs.

Horace Williams Airport plane crash Probe into fatal plane crash begins

Friend said Pitts, 65, had offered to fly Henn to Raleigh from Delaware to be with his family following the death of his brother, Nate Henn, who was among 74 people killed Sunday in a terrorist bombing in Uganda.

The Henn family said Tuesday that they are devastated by their loss and blessed that they did not lose another son.

“We are so grateful to both of the pilots for everything they did on our behalf and are both touched and broken by the events," they said in a statement released through the hospital. "Our thoughts and prayers are with them and their families.”

Owned by UNC, Horace Williams Airport is often used by private pilots. Officials said Tuesday that the airport is still closed to air traffic so investigators can assess the crash scene.


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  • jet2rdu Jul 13, 2010

    Parachutes on Cirrus planes sometimes pop out upon impact, and in some cases this is good for first responders. For the parachute rocket and igniter are located behind the Cirrus passenger compartment and if they are not deployed prior to an emergency crash landing, could pose a serious threat to bodily injury or death to first responders. They should never cut into the cabin roof. First responders also have to be cautious about the fuel tanks and oxygen bottles too.

  • John Sawtooth Jul 13, 2010

    If you're definitely going to flop it into the trees anyway, why NOT pull the chute handle ? Even shaving a few fps might save you.

    I wonder how they got into extremis to begin with ?

  • jet2rdu Jul 13, 2010

    The chute probably got ripped out or deployed during the crash.
    For deployment, the Ballistic Parachute System mechanism needs Minimum Altitude to function correctly. Some Cirrus Flight Instructors say you be at least above 700 Feet, and others say that you should be at least 1,000 feet above ground before you pull the Deployment Handle.

  • Common Sense Man Jul 13, 2010

    "In that case, that parachute probably SAVED two lives."

    Doubt it had any affect.

  • cherokee43v6 Jul 13, 2010

    Odds are the pilot deployed the chute in a last ditch attempt to stop the plane when he realized the overshoot was putting him in trees.

    In that case, that parachute probably SAVED two lives.

  • justinm Jul 13, 2010

    Cirrus is praying right now that the ballistic parachute didn't malfunction i bet. The way it is stretched out and draped over the fence and with only 4 knot winds when it crashed, it seems like it had to have deployed while the plane was landing.

  • Kingfish Jul 13, 2010

    Authorities might not have released the identity of the pilot, but WRAL has!

  • NoFreakinWay Jul 13, 2010

    "mainly down south and east of the triangle"
    well, all that rain we were going to get, if you didn't get it, and no one did, you ain't gettin' any. back to our crunchy brown. see you in November when it rains again.