Local News

Plane experienced mechanical problems day before fatal crash near Louisburg

Posted December 18, 2017 12:55 p.m. EST
Updated December 18, 2017 4:29 p.m. EST

— The single-engine plane that crashed in a Nash County field on Saturday, killing the pilot, had experienced engine trouble the previous day, according to fellow pilots.

Steve Merritt, 70, a flight instructor and the manager of the Triangle North Executive Airport in Louisburg, went to retrieve the Cessna 150C plane, which a teenage pilot landed in a field off N.C. Highway 56 on Friday, fellow pilots said Monday. After a mechanic performed some work on the engine, Merritt took off, planning to return the plane to the airport, but it crashed shortly after takeoff, they said.

"What they were doing was very simple – just flying it off a rough field. It wasn’t a problem. He was a very experienced pilot," pilot John Styers said Monday.

"For some reason, he got off the ground, but he didn’t make it back," pilot Ben Cason said. "It's tragic, just tragic."

Merritt, who was from Cary, was the only person aboard when it crashed, authorities said. He died Sunday at WakeMed in Raleigh, according to his family.

"Steve was a huge personality here, and he's the glue that held a lot of us together," aircraft broker Ernesto Ibbott said. "We're all very much deeply feeling his loss today as a friend, as a professional."

Wellington Merritt said his father grew up in Wilmington, graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and served in Vietnam as a radioman for the Navy. He had various government jobs and owned a printing company before his work as a flight instructor and manager took off, his son said.

Steve Merritt also was heavily involved in various causes in the Bahamas, from animal rescues to building a home for orphan children, and he organized relief flights to Haiti after the 2010 earthquake there, family and friends said.

"Everybody loved him. Everybody loved Steve," Cason said.

"He loved flying very much. That rubbed off on many people," Ibbott said. "(He was) one of the most knowledgeable instructors you can find. He instilled a lot of confidence in a lot of student pilots."

The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating the crash.