[Editor’s Note: We received an anonymous tip regarding this crash. Thank you for your contribution. This CAP plane crash in the Virgin Islands was attributed to pilot error.]
On October 26, 1996, three CAP members of the St. Croix Composite Squadron died in a CAP plane crash. The members were Capt Normando Ortero, the pilot, and Cadet Natasha Ayala and Cadet Dorence Isidore. Both cadets were 14-years-old. The plane crash occurred a couple seconds after takeoff during a flight orientation on St. Croix, Virgin Islands.
NTSB Accident Report
The purpose of the flight was to take CAP cadets on an orientation flight around the local area, and return to the airport. Witnesses observed the airplane taxi to runway 9, proceed onto the runway without performing a run-up, and take off. The captain of a regional airline, which departed after the Cessna, said the Cessna climbed to an altitude of about 900 feet then turned sharply to the left, followed by a sharp turn to the right.
The captain said the airplane went into a ‘steep’ right spiral, and impacted the ground with no forward movement. In addition, the captain said that the wind was down the runway, it was a clear day, and it was not unusually turbulent. Most of the witnesses that saw the accident gave similar accounts.
The pilot’s failure to maintain airspeed.
HISTORY OF FLIGHT
On October 26, 1996, about 0959 eastern daylight time, a Cessna 172P, N9818L, registered to the Civil Air Patrol (CAP), operating as a Title 14 CFR Part 91, local orientation flight, crashed in the vicinity of St. Croix, United States Virgin Islands. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and no flight plan was filed. The airplane was destroyed. The commercial pilot and two passengers were fatally injured.
The flight had originated in San Juan, earlier that day, flew to St. Thomas, dropped off a passenger, and arrived at St. Croix about 0945. The purpose of the flight was to take CAP cadets on an orientation flight around the local area, and return to the St. Croix Airport. This segment of the flight was originating at the time.
Witnesses observed the airplane taxi to runway 9, proceed onto the runway without performing a run-up, and takeoff. The crew of an American Eagle flight, which departed 2-3 minutes after the Cessna, witnessed the accident, and according to the first officer (FO), “…he [the Cessna] had started a turn to the left, then came…around to the right.”
The Cessna “started this maneuver at about 700 feet, and the pitch attitude of the aircraft was 15 degrees pitch up until about 90 degrees into his turn to the right. At that point, the nose of the aircraft abruptly pitched down 40-60 degrees until impact with the ground. From the start of the turn to the right until impact the aircraft made about one full revolution.”
The Captain said, when he was checking the traffic during initial climb he realized that the Cessna “had reversed his course.” The Cessna had “turned northeast” after takeoff and now it seemed that he made a “very rapid course reversal (high rate of bank) as if trying to come back to the runway.”
The captain further stated that, “it was at this time that the nose dropped and the airplane seemed to go into a high speed steep spiral, and struck the ground” with no forward movement.
In addition, the captain had told the NTSB that the wind was down the runway, it was a clear day, and it was not unusually turbulent. Most of the witnesses that saw the accident gave similar accounts. Most of the ground witnesses reported hearing the sound of the engine until the airplane impacted the ground.
The accident occurred during the hours of daylight about 17 degrees, 42 minutes north, and 064 degrees, 47 minutes west.