Local News

NTSB: Plane sped before fatal crash

Posted July 14, 2010 11:45 a.m. EDT
Updated July 14, 2010 6:58 p.m. EDT

— Federal investigators looking into a fatal plane crash at a Chapel Hill airport this week believe the pilot attempted to land and then sped up before the aircraft crashed into a tree.

National Transportation Safety Board officials said Wednesday that witnesses reported seeing the plane's tail strike the ground three times as the pilot attempted to land the single-engine Cirrus SR20.

The plane then veered off to the left side of the runway, and that's when the speed of the plane increased, officials said.

The pilot and plane's owner, Thomas Pitts, 65, of Wilmington, Del., was killed. His co-pilot, James Donahue, was in critical condition Wednesday at UNC Hospitals.

The only passenger on the plane, Kyle Henn, 22, was released from the hospital Wednesday morning.

The crash happened around 3 p.m. Monday at Horace Williams Airport, a private airport that sits off Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard near the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill campus.

The university-owned airport has about 15 flights per day, officials said, many of which have to do with university programs.

Since 1981, 13 people, including Pitts, have died in crashes associated with the airport, Susan Houston, with UNC News Services, said.

Those deaths stem from two crashes at the airport in 1981, in which eight people died, and another in 1989 in which one person died.

A plane taking off from the airport in 1993 crashed at nearby Finley Golf Course, resulting in three deaths, Houston said.

UNC plans to close the airport permanently as part of a plan to expand the campus, Houston said.

No date has been set, however, she said, since the expansion plans are contingent on the university getting the necessary funding.