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Pilot fell out of aircraft and hit tail, causing deadly 2022 crash that killed 2, NTSB says

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The pilot of an experimental aircraft fell out of the plane and struck the tail, causing a crash that killed him and his passenger in 2022 in Pennsylvania, federal authorities said.

The “experimental amateur-built” Bearhawk Patrol plane crashed the afternoon of Oct. 29, 2022, at a farm near Hanover Township, according to a report from the National Transportation Safety Board released Wednesday.

The Luzerne County coroner’s office identified the two killed as Michael Bowen, 59, of Jonestown; and Ronald Snyder 76, of Bernville. The report did not mention the pilot and “pilot-rated passenger” by name, but identified them by their ages. Snyder was the pilot.

Before the fatal flight, the pilot told a friend the airplane had a rigging issue that seemed to cause the plane to “kick” laterally while turning, the report said.

The friend took the plane for a 10 minute flight and told the pilot he noticed the “odd yawing” while turning. The pilot said he would address the problem later, the report said.

The plane took off from the Wilkes-Barre Wyoming Valley Airport and was headed to an airport in Lebanon County. It was in the air for several minutes before it crashed, the NTSB said.

Soon after it leveled off, “witnesses reported that the airplane ‘rolled’ then bucked’ as its nose ‘dipped down initially,’ then pitched up ‘quickly,’” the report said. “Several witnesses reported seeing the pilot out of the airplane at this time, and one reported seeing the pilot impact then spiral off the airplane’s tail. Witnesses then observed the pilot and airplane descend to the ground.”

Prior to takeoff, witnesses reported that the pilot sat in the front seat and fastened his seatbelt and shoulder harness. His seatbelt and shoulder harness were found intact, unlatched and undamaged which “suggests that he intentionally unbuckled his seatbelt during the short flight,” the report said.

The report speculated that he may have been trying to look at a problem with the tail given the issue he and the friend had noticed during turns, and while doing so, either fell out of the plane or “displaced a flight control” which “caused an abrupt pitching moment that ejected him from the airplane.”

The report said it could not determine why the pilot left the plane, but said his impact to the tail section caused damage and a loss of control that the passenger would not have been able to recover from.

The plane had climbed to 1,700 feet before it crashed. In the final seconds of the flight, it descended 400 feet in less than two seconds, the report said.

There was no evidence of any mechanical issues with the engine that would have prevented it from operating normally, the report said.

Toxicology reports conducted by the FAA detected an anti-depressant and a cholesterol medication in the pilot’s system, but the medications were considered “non-impairing” and not factors in the accident, the report said.

The plane crash about 100 feet from where children were on a hayride at at a farm. No one on the ground was hurt.

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