Report: Plane over weight limit, attempted multiple takeoffs before crash last July

Casey Harrison
The Detroit News

A plane crash on Littlefield Lake in northern Isabella County last July was likely caused by the aircraft being about 57 pounds overweight as well as the pilot's "improper" decision to continue attempting takeoff after two failed tries, according to a federal accident report.

The single-engine, two-seat plane crashed on July 27, 2019, and left the passenger, a Deerfield Township man, in serious condition at the time after being flown by helicopter to a hospital in Grand Rapids. There were no fatalities. 

Isabella County sheriffs are investigating the crash of a single-engine, two-seat plane that hospitalized two men Saturday on Littlefield Lake in the northern part of the county.

According to the report from the National Transportation Safety Board, the pilot, a Tennessee man, was conducting a sales demonstration flight with a pilot-based passenger on board. He stated the airplane, an Icon A5 registered and operated by Icon Aircraft Inc., took off on the first attempt, and that "there was nothing wrong with the (air)plane at all," but after initiating a right turn to stay over the lake it felt like the plane "hit a wall." The plane then descended rapidly, clipped a tree, and impacted water, which resulted in substantial damage to the fuselage and wings. 

After the crash, weight and balance calculations revealed the airplane was about 57 pounds over its maximum gross weight and outside the weight and center of gravity limits contained in the pilot's operating handbook, according to the report. Data retrieved from the plane's digital-to-analog converter indicated there were three takeoff attempts, with the plane going airborne on the third attempt. 

Video shows the plane approaching trees during the initial climb. And as the plane reached about the midpoint of a stand of trees, the angle of attack appeared to increase and the nose dropped, according to the report. The right wing lowered and impacted one of the trees. 

The report states the crash occurred at about 1:20 p.m. The pilot estimated wind to be about 12-15 knots, according to the report. When the plane took the right turn to stay on the lake, the pilot estimated his speed between 55-60 knots. 

The passenger stated that "the weather was not the best," and the wind was shifting 180 degrees, according to the report. He told the pilot-in-command that sentiment, and claimed it took four takeoff attempts to get airborne, according to the report. 

After the second attempt, the passenger said he told the pilot that "it would not break his heart if they did not go," according to the report. The passenger said the pilot told him that the airplane had 485 pounds of useful load available and the fuel level was 3/4 of a tank. 

A witness to the accident stated that they saw the airplane make three takeoff attempts before the airplane became airborne, according to the report. 

Icon could not be reached for comment.

The plane was upside down in the water for several hours before it was removed after personal flotation tubes were placed under the wings to keep it from sinking, according to a release by the Isabella County Sheriff's Office last July. 

The plane was later recovered and taken to an impound yard. 

Messages and emails left for Icon Aircraft and the passenger were not returned.