NTSB rules on cause of Howell plane crash

The Detroit News

A misplaced air filter screen was the probable cause of the Howell plane crash that killed a Delta airlines pilot and aircraft mechanic in 2019, the National Transportation Safety Board has determined.

The improperly installed metal intake screen "allowed the filter element to become displaced and subsequently lodge in the intake, blocking intake air," according to the report. With air intake blocked, the engine lost total power and crashed at low altitude and a low airspeed near the , the report said.

Pilot Phillip "Flip" Colmer, 64, of Chelsea, and co-pilot James Tafralian, 68, of Webberville, died on Aug. 20, 2019 after the Aero Commander 200 single-engine plane they were flying lost power on takeoff from Livingston County Spencer J. Hardy Airport.

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 final report, dated Sept. 16, is consistent with preliminary findings regarding the air filter element. It does not specify who placed the intake screen incorrectly.

The airplane had recently undergone maintenance and installation of an overhauled engine and three-bladed propeller. The accident flight was described as a "maintenance check flight."

The NTSB said that an engine modification is typically recorded on an FAA form and adopted with a field approval, but the form and maintenance records were not found.

A video taken in the cockpit recorded the accident flight, including a sudden decrease in engine noise and key indicators of the engine's performance at the time. The video was not released.

Colmer was a Delta airline pilot with a distinguished naval career and prominent contributor to Project Recover, which sends volunteers to remote regions to look for and retrieve the remains of U.S. airmen lost at war. Tafralian was an aircraft mechanic well known in the skydiving community.