The pilots of two small airplanes that collided mid-air in Florida Tuesday may not have been aware that the other was nearby when they crashed into each other, according to an air safety inspector.
The crash, which resulted in the death of four people, occurred over Lake Hartridge in Winter Haven, about 45 miles southwest of Orlando. It involved a Piper J-3 Cub seaplane and a Cherokee Piper 161 fixed-wing plane, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.
“All initial indications we have, and again this is preliminary, were that the Cherokee was self-announcing its location and its intention, and the Cub was not,” Lynn Spencer, an air safety investigator for the eastern region of the NTSB, said Thursday. “This might indicate that the Cherokee was unaware of the Cub, and if the Cub could not hear what the Cherokee was announcing, they may have been unaware of the Cherokee.”
The Cherokee Piper came nose-to-nose with the Cub as it was making a left, descending turn, Spencer said at a news conference. The Cub “attempted an evasive maneuver,” she said.
“We do not know what either pilot could see at this point in the investigation. It is too early to have that information,” Spencer said.
The NTSB will look into the planes’ equipment to determine what ability they had to see each other, she said. Both planes were recovered, except for the right wing of the Cherokee Piper.
“Our preliminary information at this point is that neither airplane had any kind of avoidance system radar that would have alerted them to the other aircraft,” Spencer said, noting that it is not required that a pilot communicate or have a radio in the airspace where the crash took place.
Spencer said in these types of planes, pilots must make sure they are visually and spatially aware while flying.
“Every pilot has a responsibility to see and avoid. It’s a basic regulation. That said, there are limitations imposed by the airframe itself,” she said.
The investigation into the crash remains ongoing, the NTSB said, adding that they have met with the airport manager.
“Our goal at the NTSB is to find the probable cause and to improve aviation safety,” Spencer said. “We will try to prevent this accident from happening again in this area.”