Three years ago last week, a beloved St. George islander, a former wildlife biologist at St. Vincent Island National Wildlife Refuge perished in the crash of a small plane during a training flight at Eglin Air Force Base
The National Transportation Safety Board has determined pilot error caused the June 23, 2011, airplane crash at Eglin that killed Shalimar resident David Miles and Thomas Lewis of St George Island.
Miles, 65, and Lewis, 50, both licensed pilots, died when their plane went down during an early-morning training flight. The Beech C24R Sierra they had rented from Eglin’s Aero Club crashed in a grassy area just off the base’s runway.
“The probable cause of this accident” was “the pilots’ failure to maintain airspeed,” according to the NTSB’s probable cause report released earlier this spring.
Evidence from the scene indicated “the likelihood that neither pilot adequately monitored the airplane’s airspeed, which resulted in a right-turning aerodynamic stall,” the report said.
Miles, a retired Air Force colonel, was a certified flying instructor. He was training Lewis at the time of the accident. Both men were members of the Aero Club. NTSB investigators used radar data to determine Miles and Lewis were attempting a “360-degree power off approach,” just before the accident. The maneuver, sometimes used to simulate engine failure, “involves a 360-degree change of direction to a preselected landing spot,” the report said.
The pilots tried the approach twice. During the second attempt, “witnesses heard the engine sputter,” then power back up, the report said.
“They then saw the airplane descend at a steep angle and impact an aircraft parking apron,” it said. The report said the Beech C24R’s engine had not been overhauled recently and “another pilot reported that he had engine failure … about 12 months earlier.”
That pilot made a successful forced landing and could not restart the aircraft, the report said. Maintenance personnel were able to start it the next day.
Lewis worked for several years as a biologist at St. Vincent, but most recently worked for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Maryland.
The four-passenger plane was owned by Eglin and rented to the civilian pilot through the base's Aero Club. Use of the club's planes is open to the general public, provided the pilot has the proper credentials. Both Miles and Lewis were members of the Aero Club. The club has just one Beechcraft C24R Sierra, base officials confirmed. It was graded airworthy in 190.
The NTSB ID on this investigation is ERA11FA354 on a Beech C24R plane registration number N38029