The National Transportation Safety Board has released the preliminary report on the plane crash Friday, Oct. 2, that killed Warsaw City Councilman Charlie Smith, his son and attorney Scott Smith, former Tippecanoe Valley Football Coach Scott Bibler, and retired Sprint Car driver Tony Elliott.
No finding as to the cause of the crash is noted.
The following is its report as released:
This is preliminary information, subject to change, and may contain errors. Any errors in this report will be corrected when the final report has been completed. NTSB investigators either traveled in support of this investigation or conducted a significant amount of investigative work without any travel, and used data obtained from various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.
On Oct. 2, 2015, about 3:12 p.m. eastern daylight time, a Piper PA-32R-301, N782TM, collided with terrain following an in-flight breakup near Westminster, S.C. The private pilot and three passengers were fatally injured. The airplane was destroyed by impact forces. The airplane was registered to Smith Family Aviation LLC and operated by the pilot under the provisions of Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 as a personal flight. Day, instrument meteorological conditions prevailed at the time of the accident, and an instrument flight rules flight plan was filed. The flight originated from Warsaw Municipal Airport, Warsaw, and was destined for Oconee County Regional Airport, Clemson, S. C.
According to preliminary information provided by the Federal Aviation Administration, the airplane was at 6,000 feet above mean sea level, approaching ZEYLM intersection to hold for the RNAV runway 7 approach at CEU. The pilot was subsequently cleared for the approach and reported that the airplane was established outbound on the procedure turn. The controller subsequently queried the pilot when he did not report inbound on the approach; no response was received. Radar contact was lost over Lake Hartwell, on the Georgia-South Carolina border, about 2,200 feet msl.
Local residents reported hearing and seeing the airplane prior to the accident. One witness heard a loud “boom,” followed by white pieces of debris falling into the lake. Another witness saw the airplane descending vertically, in a spiral motion, until it disappeared behind a tree line. Another witness reported that the engine was running until ground impact. Several witnesses reported the event to 911, and the wreckage was located by first responders shortly thereafter.
The pilot, age 71, held a private pilot certificate with airplane single engine land and instrument airplane ratings. He reported 1,448 hours total flight time on his most recent application for an FAA third-class medical certificate, dated Oct. 17, 2013.
The main wreckage was found inverted in a wooded area, about 50 yards north of the shoreline of Lake Hartwell, near Westminster. Damage to trees was indicative of a near-vertical descent angle at impact. There was no fire. The main wreckage consisted of the main cabin, cockpit, engine, propeller, left wing, and the inboard half of the right wing. About 10 percent of the empennage was recovered near the south shoreline the lake, near Toccoa, Ga. At the time of this writing, the outboard portion of the right wing and the remainder of the empennage have not been located.
The wreckage was retained for further examination.