Faced with dozens of bits of airplane debris marked by small orange flags, crews on Sunday began retrieving the wreckage of a small business jet from the Derby-area soybean field where it crashed last week, killing both pilot and a nationally known pastor who was the passenger.
Hundreds of pieces of the Cessna Citation lay strewn across at least two fields near 95th Street South and Webb Road. The outboard portion of the left wing was discovered in another field 3/4 mile to the west. National Transportation Safety Board Air Safety Investigator Tom Latson said more bits of the multi-engine plane will likely be found in the coming weeks by residents, and the agency is asking that anyone who encounters pieces of the wreckage to report their findings to the Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Office or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
“The airplane was heavily fragmented,” Latson said Sunday at the crash site. “The pieces that we found number in the thousands.”
Authorities have said the 1975 Cessna, registered to Dufresne Inc., went down less than 20 minutes after taking off from Wichita Mid-Continent Airport at 9:59 a.m. Friday. Witnesses on the ground reported hearing an in-air explosion or seeing a white cloud trailing behind the aircraft. Some saw the impact, followed by black smoke. Others, Latson said, saw pieces falling off the plane as it came down.
Latson said records show that the plane, which was en route to Texas, reached an altitude of about 16,400 feet before beginning a “near-vertical, high-speed, high-velocity” descent. It disappeared from radar at 10:17 a.m. There was no distress call.
Most of the wreckage is centered in a 15-by-20-foot wide and 6-foot-deep crater, where the plane was further destroyed by fire following impact. On Sunday afternoon, Latson and investigators from the Federal Aviation Administration, Cessna Aircraft Co. and the engine manufacturers continued to extensively map and catalog each fragment found.
Others combing the soybean field carefully picked up metal, a CD and mangled bits of still-recognizable aircraft, then dropped them in 5-gallon buckets. A front loader and backhoe were parked nearby.
Latson said on-scene retrieval efforts are expected to continue through Monday. Then the wreckage will be shipped to a Dallas-area storage facility for further inspection and evaluation. Investigators are also reviewing medical histories for both Dufresne and Morgan, the pilot’s qualifications and training history, as well as the aircraft’s flight logs.
Latson said a preliminary report of his findings likely be published on www.ntsb.gov within a week and that a more extensive report would follow in six to 12 months.
It could take a year or longer, however, before a five-member panel at the NTSB determines the cause of the crash.
“The investigation is difficult, long, tedious,” Latson said. “For family and friends, it is painful because it takes so long.”