NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - National Transportation Safety Board investigators have begun the lengthy process of determining what led to a fatal plane crash in Lafayette.
Officials say it could take more than a year to deliver their findings but they did offer more clues into the crash Sunday and what their biggest challenges will be in figuring out what caused it and why.
“There was no distress call and what we know now, preliminary, is there was conversation with the crew,” says NTSB Vice Chairman Bruce Landsberg.
Officials with NTSB are beginning to shed some light on the Lafayette plane crash that claimed the lives of five people and left four others injured.
“We will be looking very carefully at the pilots’ qualifications, the training they had, medical certification and also the history on the aircraft and its maintenance records,” says Landsberg.
Landsberg explained their investigation will revolve around three main factors: the pilot, the aircraft and the environment.
“Visibility was approximately three-fourths of a mile, five kilometers of wind and the tile base was about 200 feet above the ground,” says NTSB Air Safety Investigator Dr. Jennifer Rodi.
Landsberg says, right now, they can’t speculate or draw any conclusions with their information. But he says they pilot, Ian Biggs, was commercially certified flying a private plane. By law, that means he’s allowed to operate aircraft in inclement weather.
“Our initial information is the airplane climbed to 900 feet. The warning came when the airplane ascended through 700 feet,” says Landberg.
A warning from air traffic control indicating the pilot was flying too low. Investigators suspect it was in the air only seconds before crashing less than a mile from the airport on Verot School Road.
“The aircraft landed in pretty much a straight line and the debris field, I would estimate, is about a quarter mile or so. So, very sobering situation.”
Based on the condition of the aircraft and the absence of in-flight data, investigators have to rely on witness interviews and evidence on the scene, like undamaged instrumentation.
“Suffice to say, it complicates the job tremendously when we don’t have that. The wreckage is in pretty tough shape between impact damage and fire damage so, there’s a lot to work with. Our people are experts though and they will find it as much as I can.”
Six people were on board the Piper twin engine plane when it left Lafayette Airport Saturday morning bound for an airport north of Atlanta. Passengers, like WDSU reporter Carley McCord, were headed to watch LSU play Oklahoma in the Peach Bowl.
McCord was one of the four who perished along with the pilot.
The sixth passenger was seriously injured, as was a woman on the ground in her car. Two postal workers suffered smoke inhalation.
“I know this community,” says Josh Gillery. “We work together. We play together. We have fun together. We hurt together. And we will heal together.”
The investigator at the press conference Sunday says her team will be on the ground as long as it takes to gather the evidence and information they need to figure out what happened.
It will involve documenting the entire area, approximately a quarter of a mile, then transporting each piece of wreckage to a secure facility to be analyzed. It is expected to start Monday.
Landsberg says a number of investigators are already on scene with more on the way.