Photo of plane crash wreckage provides clues for investigators, aviation expert says

Pilot died in plane crash Monday near Hilliard

HILLIARD, Fla. – A photo provided to News4Jax gives a look at the wreckage of a plane crash that killed the pilot Monday afternoon north of Hilliard.

The plane, which crashed in a wooded area off Trinity Lane near County Road 121, appeared to be mostly intact, which will make it easier for investigators to determine what went wrong, according to News4Jax aviation expert Ed Booth.

Booth said the primary piece of evidence that leads him to believe engine trouble caused the crash is the propeller. The photo clearly shows the propeller is still intact. Booth said that’s a sign that the propeller was not in motion when the plane crashed. Had it been in motion, Booth said, the propeller would have been bent or distorted during the crash.

“Which tells me the engine had either stopped completely or the propeller was not being driven by the engine, the engine was not producing power," Booth said.

Also, 911 calls from witnesses suggested there was a problem with the engine.

“The engine was smoking and it had black smoke coming out of it,” said a woman who called 911.

“It was spitting and sputtering then we saw it nose dive,” another woman told the 911 operator.

Booth said there are two sources of engine fire.

“One is aviation fuel, which is highly flammable, and also engine oil," he said.

Both liquids move through the engine through rubber hoses that can break or leak. Booth said leaky or broken hoses can cause the liquids to ignite when they come in contact with a hot engine exhaust system.

“Designers of aircraft take extreme care to prevent such happenings. Unfortunately, when they do, it is the most serious type of emergency in inflight aviation," he said.

But aviation records show the single-engine Van’s RV-8 aircraft that crashed was an experimental plane that was built from a kit in 2004 by a man who lives in Connecticut. News4Jax has chosen not to name the man because it’s unclear if he was the pilot who died.

Booth said the photo of the wreckage also gives investigators two more clues:

  1. Fuselage intact on the ground, meaning the plane didn’t break apart in flight.
  2. Because there isn’t a large debris field, the pilot may have tried to safely land the aircraft.

According to flight tracking data, the plane was picked up on radar flying over New Jersey on Sunday night and then in the Atlanta area on Monday before it went down in Northeast Florida later that day.

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