The mosquito abatement plane that crashed at Slidell Municipal Airport last month, killing two pilots, collided with high-power transmission line towers, according to a preliminary report by the National Transportation Safety Board. In response, Slidell officials are renewing efforts to get those lines near the airport’s north runway approach relocated or buried.
Airport manager Richard Artigue said Tuesday that even though the towers conform with Federal Aviation Administration regulations, local officials have long recognized they pose a potential safety hazard for aircraft. The April 19 crash proved those fears were valid, he said.
Wayne Fisher, 68, and Donald Pechon, 59, were both experienced pilots, Artigue said. Fisher, a reserve deputy with the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Office, also flew a helicopter for that agency.
Many of the pilots who use the airport are far less experienced, he said, and the airport is heavily used by student pilots.
Both Artigue and Slidell City Councilman Val Vanney, whose district includes the airport, said the project would cost millions of dollars and require the cooperation of numerous players, from Entergy and Cleco, the two utility companies that own the lines, to the state and federal governments.
“One company or one person can’t do it,” Artigue said, adding that it would take federal money.
City officials met last week with executives of Cleco, which owns the inner power transmission lines. Vanney described the company as cooperative. Officials also plan to contact Entergy, which owns the outer lines.
The Slidell City Council had been poised to vote Tuesday night on a resolution asking the companies to relocate their overhead lines as far as possible from the airport or else to bury the lines. The resolution called the relocation “absolutely necessary for the safety of pilots” and urged the companies to “act as expeditiously as possible.”
But Vanney said he was withdrawing the resolution in light of Cleco’s expressed willingness to work with the city and the complexity and cost of the project.
The work will require the support of state officials and Louisiana’s congressional delegation because of the cost, he said.
Artigue said Slidell officials don’t want to appear to be blaming anyone for the accident.
But the accident is giving new impetus to efforts to get the lines moved, something Artiguqe said former Mayor Ben Morris had pushed to do.
“We don’t want to try to put the blame on anyone,” Artigue said. “We do want to do something in the name of safety.”
Vanney noted that the only other fatal crash at the Slidell airport happened in 1974.
Some officials speculated immediately after the crash that engine trouble had played a role, but the NTSB report does not mention that. Instead, it makes it clear that the Beech 65 collided with the towers as it was making its approach to land at the airport after aerial spraying for mosquitos.
“The initial point of impact was damage to two towers suspending high-power transmission lines,” the report says. “These two towers were 70-80 feet tall and were located 200 yards north of the main wreckage. The airplane’s left wing tip and a portion of the aerial applicant tank were found near the towers.”
The report notes that it was a clear, calm night with visibility at 10 miles.
Another mosquito district plane that was preparing to land at the airport about the same time reported seeing an arc of electricity followed shortly by a plume of fire from the ground.
The plane’s wreckage was found in a marsh just north of the approach end of Runway 18.
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Wayne Fisher, 68, and Donald Pechon, 59, were the two men aboard the Mosquito Abatement District plane when it crashed into the woods just north of the Slidell airport while trying to land, according to James Hartman, a spokesman for the St. Tammany Parish Coroner’s office.
FAA Flight Standards District Office: FAA Baton Rouge FSDO-03
NTSB Identification: CEN16FA158
14 CFR Public Use
Accident occurred Tuesday, April 19, 2016 in Slidell, LA
Aircraft: BEECH 65 A90 1, registration: N7MC
Injuries: 2 Fatal.
This is preliminary information, subject to change, and may contain errors. Any errors in this report will be corrected when the final report has been completed. NTSB investigators either traveled in support of this investigation or conducted a significant amount of investigative work without any travel, and used data obtained from various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.
On April 19, 2016, about 2115 central daylight time, a Beech 65-A90-1 airplane, N7MC, collided with towers suspending high power transmission lines, while attempting to land at the Slidell Municipal Airport (KASD), Slidell, Louisiana. Both pilots were fatally injured and the airplane was destroyed. The airplane was registered to and operated by the Saint Tammany Parish Mosquito Abatement District as a public use flight. Night visual meteorological condition prevailed for the flight, which operated on a visual flight rules flight plan. The local flight originated about 2000.
After completing a planned mosquito abatement aerial application flight, the accident pilots radioed their intentions to land at KASD. A company airplane was also in the area and flew the GPS approach to runway 18 for practice, while the accident airplane flew a visual pattern. When the pilots of the other company airplane radioed that they had crossed the GPS approach's final approach fix, the accident pilots radioed that they were on a left base and were number one to land at the airport. Seconds later, the company pilots of the other airplane saw an arc of electricity followed shortly by a plume of fire from the ground. The accident pilots could not be reached on the radio, and emergency responders were contacted.
The airplane was located in a marsh about 0.6 nautical miles north-northwest of approach end of runway 18. The initial point of impact was damage to two towers suspending high power transmission lines. These two towers were between 70-80 feet tall and were located 200 yards north of the main wreckage. The airplane's left wing tip and a portion of the aerial applicant tank were found near the towers.
The airplane was retained for further examination.
At 2053, an automated weather reporting facility located at KASD reported a calm wind, visibility 10 miles, a clear sky, temperature 68° F, dew point 64° F, and a barometric pressure of 30.09 inches.