Air filter found displaced in fatal Livingston County plane crash

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

A dislodged air filter blocked the intake of a small plane that crashed, killing two, after departure from Livingston County airport in August, investigators report.

The National Transportation Safety Board did not release a probable cause of the accident, but its preliminary findings are consistent with a sudden stoppage of the engine after takeoff.

"When the airplane was about 200 to 300 ft in the air, the airplane appeared to stop its climb and was silent," witnesses reported, according to the NTSB. "One witness reported that it looked like the airplane tried to turn back to the runway, before entering a rapid decent."

Investigators work the scene of a crash of a single engine Rockwell Commander M200 small airplane at Livingston County's Spencer J. Hardy Airport, northwest of Howell, Michigan on August 20, 2019.

The incident occurred at about 11:18 p.m. on Aug. 20. A single-engine, four-passenger Aero Commander 200 crashed at the Spencer J. Hardy Airport, officials said in a statement.

Authorities recorded that the airplane had recently undergone maintenance, including the installation of a new field overhauled engine and a three-bladed propeller. The purpose of the flight was for a maintenance test flight of the airplane, according to a National Transportation Safety Board Aviation Accident report.

On board was James Tafralian, 68, of Webberville and Philip Henry Colmer, 64, of Chelsea. Colmer piloted the plane and owned a similar airplane. Tafralian, in the right seat, was also a mechanic who had performed the recent work on the airplane, according to the report.

It was the second deadly crash involving pilots based in Livingston County in three months. Randy Dippold and a passenger died when their plane crashed in Lake Michigan in May. 

Investigators found that the plane's air filter got sucked into the engine, blocking air flow.

The report indicated that the airplane was flown earlier in the day although no flight plan was filed for the maintenance test flight.

"It is unknown if any adjustments or maintenance items were accomplished before the second flight," the report stated.

The airplanecame to rest about 600 feet beyond the departure end of the runway. Livingston County EMS director Jeffrey Boyd said the crash occurred at the north end of the airport. EMS headquarters is adjacent to the airport on Tooley Road.

At about 2:30 p.m., the bodies of the victims were taken by ambulance to University Hospital for autopsies.

Twitter: @SarahRahal_