Authorities are still investigating what caused the twin-engine Piper Aerostar to crash into a residential neighborhood minutes after taking off from Aurora Municipal Airport. Air traffic controllers lost contact after he notified he had reached 1,300 feet (Wilko’s note: this is MSL-actually only 600 feet off the ground) and they cleared him to climb to 4,000 feet. It was a foggy night with about half a mile of visibility, according to the NTSB.
A friend of mine, who works for the FAA, mentioned he was on the scene shortly after this particularly violent airplane crash by my home airport two weeks ago. Not all airplane crashes result in a debris field that size, leaving only small remnants of the plane. As I was biting into my scrambled eggs he said” There were body parts everywhere. I saw legs and an arm but we never did find one of the heads”. I put my fork down, the eggs losing much of their appeal. “Did he lose an engine” I asked. “You know. Asymmetric thrust on a twin at low altitude is hard for most people to handle.” He replied that it wasn’t engine failure. There was nothing official but it seems the pilot possessed a low amount of instrument time.
And that, my friend, underscores the difference between legal and proficient. You might complete the required minimum amount of approaches and holding patterns but it takes consistent practice to stay out of trouble. An autopilot can help, most Aerostars have them. It takes very little time for a plane to hit the deck at that altitude if you aren’t glued to the instrument panel.
None of us knew the pilot and passenger. They were from Florida, travelling to Denver, but it’s somewhat personal when it happens at your airport.