NTSB: Plane overweight in crash that killed 4
The plane in the 2014 crash that killed four Case Western Reserve University students, including its Saginaw pilot, was probably overweight, the NTSB found.
The Aug. 25 accident in Willoughby Hills, Ohio, killed pilot William Michael Felten, 19, of Saginaw, and three members of the Case Western wrestling team: Lucas Marcelli, 20, of Massillon, Ohio; Abraham Pishevar, 18, of, Rockville, Md.; and John Hill, 18, of St. Simons, Ga.
The plane likely was overloaded by at least 90 pounds when it crashed just after takeoff from Cuyahoga County Airport in Richmond Heights, said the report, issued Nov. 17. The plane’s center of gravity may also have been farther to the rear than the plane’s operating limits, the NTSB found.
The report summarizes the facts surrounding the crash, but does not identify a probable cause. That determination typically follows by days or weeks.
Felten was a private pilot with about 116 hours of experience who had attended a fraternity rush event immediately prior to the flight. Several witnesses reported that Felten did not drink at the event and the autopsy found no evidence of alcohol or banned substances.
Felten, commonly known by his middle name of Michael, had lined up some friends to fly with him that evening to Kelleys Island, Ohio, in Lake Erie off Sandusky. Felten had one seat remaining in the four-seat aircraft, so he turned to some freshmen wrestlers who were at the Zeta Beta Tau event to see if anyone wanted to come along.
“They were all really excited but John (Hill) volunteered first,” said Siddharth Ghanta, identified by police as one of Felten’s best friends, in a witness statement provided to the Ohio State Highway Patrol.
“Michael asked John how much he weighed and John told him that he weighed 200 (pounds). Michael did some math in his head to see if that would put them below the weight limit and believed it did. So all four of them went flying.”
Felten, a member of T&G Flying Club, had reserved the airplane for four hours that evening.
After arriving at the airport, the men boarded and Felten started the engine.
“One of the witnesses stated the airplane stayed on the ramp for about 30 minutes with the engine running,” the report says.
At 9:46 p.m., Felten called ground control for clearance to taxi for takeoff and, after brief confusion over which taxiway to use, at 9:56 p.m. reported that he was in position to take off.
“We’re gonna be flying to the east. We’re just doing some sightseeing and then we’ll be back here in a little bit,” Felten told the controller, who cleared his takeoff.
Less than two minutes later, the plane was rising slowly from the runway.
“Cuyahoga Tower, we’re not climbing fast,” Felten reported to the tower. “We’re gonna make a left turn, if that’s possible — immediately — to turn around.”
The tower gave approval and the plane crashed during that turn, witness reports say. At 9:59 p.m. the tower reported to emergency personnel that the plane crashed just outside the fence line of the airport.
According to the report, the Cessna 172 had a maximum gross weight of 2,457 pounds. Using weights from the medical examiner’s report, plus 10 pounds of baggage and 35 gallons of fuel, the NTSB found the plane had a gross weight of 2,550.6 pounds but would have been within center of gravity limits.
A second calculation, adding 10 percent to the body weights to account for thermal injuries and increasing the baggage weight to 15 pounds, determined a gross weight of 2,622.6 pounds, or 165 pounds overweight, with a center of gravity outside the plane’s operating limits.
Planes that are overloaded or have rearward centers of gravity can lose maneuverability.
“An overloaded aircraft may not be able to leave the ground, or if it does become airborne, it may exhibit unexpected and unusually poor flight characteristics,” according to the FAA.
Felten was a pre-med sophomore at Case Western, majoring in economics and biochemistry. He graduated in 2013 from Valley Lutheran High School, where he played football. He was survived by his parents, Jennifer and Dr. William Felten, and two sisters.