CLEVELAND — A pilot's fatigue and his possible confusion over his plane's autopilot mode are among reasons cited for a 2016 crash over Lake Erie near Cleveland that killed six, including the pilot, the National Transportation Safety Board concluded Monday.
Some of pilot John Fleming's confusion may be attributable to his unfamiliarity with the panel layout of the plane he was flying on Dec. 29, 2016, which was different than the plane he had previously flown, the NTSB said.
Fleming had been awake nearly 17 hours at the time of the flight, according to the NTSB. The flight was a planned return trip home from Burke Lakefront Airport to Columbus after a Cleveland Cavaliers basketball game.
“As a result, the pilot was likely fatigued which hindered his ability to manage the high workload environment, maintain an effective instrument scan, provide prompt and accurate control inputs, and to respond to multiple bank angle and descent rate warnings,” the NTSB concluded in the eight-page report.
The crash killed six people, including three found soon after: Fleming, 45, of Dublin, Ohio; his 15-year-old son, Jack; and a family friend, Brian Casey, 50, of Powell, Ohio. The bodies of Fleming's wife, 46-year-old Sue; their 14-year-old son, Andrew; and Casey's daughter, 19-year-old Megan, a student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, weren't immediately found.
In an earlier report, the NTSB said that Fleming, a Columbus beverage executive, had received a certification to fly the Cessna Citation 525 just 21 days before the crash.
According to the NTSB report, the air traffic controller at Burke Lakefront Airport cleared Fleming for takeoff at 10:56 p.m. and instructed him to turn right and maintain an altitude of 2,000 feet. Fleming acknowledged the clearance. After takeoff, the controller told Fleming to contact departure control. Fleming didn't respond.
The report said position data indicated the plane reached an altitude of approximately 2,925 feet, nearly 1,000 feet higher than what the air traffic controller had instructed. About five seconds later, the plane quickly descended. The final data point was recorded at 10:57 p.m., showing the plane's altitude at just 775 feet.
Federal Aviation Administration records indicated Fleming purchased the plane in October 2016 and did not become certified to fly the plane until Dec. 8, when he successfully completed the FAA practical test.
Monday's NTSB report said Fleming previously flew a Cessna 510. A comparison revealed that the autopilot engagement button is located in a slightly different location on that plane compared to the Cessna 525 that Fleming flew the night of the crash.
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