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NTSB faces obstacles as it begins investigation into Wichita plane crash

Firefighters fight a fire at the FlightSafety and Citation training center building at Mid-Continent Airport in Wichita, Kansas, Thursday shortly after a Beechcraft King Air crashed into the building. (Oct. 30, 2014)
Firefighters fight a fire at the FlightSafety and Citation training center building at Mid-Continent Airport in Wichita, Kansas, Thursday shortly after a Beechcraft King Air crashed into the building. (Oct. 30, 2014) The Wichita Eagle

Two challenges are slowing investigators probing the crash of a twin-engine Beechcraft King Air B200 on Thursday that killed four people at Mid-Continent Airport.

Investigators can’t get into the building that Mark Goldstein’s airplane crashed into, Peter Knudson, a spokesman with the investigations team from the National Transportation Safety Board, said Friday. It’s not safe yet.

An NTSB official said later Friday that investigators hoped to be able to enter the building Saturday. Construction crews were working late Friday to stabilize the building.

Another challenge: A lot of the evidence likely burned, Knudson said. The plane and the building it struck, FlightSafety International on South Airport Road, burned for a long time after the plane hit the roof. The plane had just taken off; the fuel tanks were full.

But there was at least one witness who saw the crash and at least part of the flight before, Knudson said.

NTSB investigators will interview all witnesses and ask for a lot of paperwork from a number of agencies, Knudson said.

Airports and air fields have security cameras, and people take videos, so the NTSB will seek any video it can find, he said. It will methodically gather everything from the last recorded conversation Goldstein had with ground controllers, to his medical records, to the maintenance records of the aircraft, he said.

And though the sequence of events that led to this crash clearly started with engine failure, investigators will look at whether errors by Goldstein, an experienced pilot, contributed to the crash and the death of three other people killed inside the FlightSafety building, Knudson said. Five others were injured.

“The pilot did report that he’d lost the left engine, so we’ll take a close look at that, and eventually do a tear-down and a detailed examination of the engine,” Knudson said.

“We’ll also talk to any witnesses, to air traffic controllers as soon as possible, while everything is fresh in their memories.”

The first release by the NTSB of a preliminary statement usually comes within a week to 10 days of a crash, Knudson said. The timetable for that might be delayed by the delay in getting to the evidence in the damaged FlightSafety building, he said.

“Accidents like these are never or rarely one thing; they are almost always a chain of events that lead to the catastrophic result,” said Mark Rosenker, a former acting chairman of the NTSB from 2006 to 2008. “So for most of the investigation, every idea will remain on the table, and as the facts are assembled, they will begin to do the analysis that will lead to the probable cause — and contributing factors.

“Questions will be asked about what the pilot did after the engine failed,” Rosenker said. “From what I hear, he was a very experienced pilot. But that airplane is clearly capable of flying with one engine after the other engine fails.”

NTSB investigators won’t be discouraged by knowing that significant parts of the aircraft burned after the crash, Rosenker said.

“We see that often — burned evidence in a number of aircraft where you have a lot of fuel, the explosion and ferocious fire,” Rosenker said. “But even with that, there are always bits and pieces of evidence left that investigators can comb through and come up with clues. They are very good at what they do.”

They will work through all the paperwork and bring in other parties — engine manufacturers, the Federal Aviation Administration and people from Beechcraft — to help with the probe, Rosenker said.

“There is a lot of knowledge that will come into this,” he said.

“They will bring in heavy equipment, and likely put everything they can find on a flatbed truck and take it to a secure location, and begin the actual physical examination.”

Reach Roy Wenzl at 316-268-6219 or rwenzl@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @roywenzl.

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