The National Transportation Safety Board this week issued its factual report on the Oct. 13, 2012, plane crash of a Piper Aztec off St. Thomas. It was piloted by Kirby Hodge. Terry Williams, an NTSB spokesman, said the final report indicating probable cause will be issued anywhere from a year to one and a half years after the accident.
One person, Valerie Jackson Thompson, survived the crash that happened about five miles off St. Thomas. She was pulled out of the water about nine hours after the accident. Hodge’s body was not found, but those of passengers Rachel Hamilton and Darwin Carr were discovered inside the plane. They both drowned. The plane was found Oct. 20, 2012, in about 100 feet of water.
The factual report added information about the condition of the plane. It indicates that examination of photographs taken by divers revealed the airplane came to rest inverted on the ocean floor. The right wing was partially separated but remained attached to the airframe. Both engines were in their respective “nacelles,” and the landing gear appeared extended and locked or “in transit.” The photographs revealed that no landing gear doors remained attached to the airplane.
Hydraulic deformation and tearing of the left wing and the belly skin of the airplane was consistent with a high-speed, shallow-angle impact.
The airplane was examined by a representative of the Piper Aircraft Company as well as Federal Aviation Administration safety inspectors. The examination indicated no evidence of any pre-impact mechanical anomalies.
In information included in the preliminary report issued shortly after the crash, Thompson told staff from the U.S. Coast Guard and the FAA that she was acquainted with Hodge and had flown with him many times before. Hodge was delivering newspapers from St. Croix to St. Thomas.
During the en route portion, the airplane flew progressively lower to "get under the weather." Thompson said she could see lights on the shore near the destination airport, and could see that it was raining. She recalled light turbulence and observed the pilot as he made his "usual" radio call.
Thompson next remembered the airplane "hitting a wall" and "seeing a flash" before the airplane filled with water. She said the pilot broke the window on his side of the airplane, and that she and the pilot got out through it. She did not see any of the occupants of the airplane after that. When asked if she noticed anything unusual with the flight, or if the pilot provided any warning before striking the water, she said no, and indicated that everything was "normal."
Hodge held an airline transport pilot certificate with multiple type ratings. His most recent FAA first class medical certificate was issued June 1, 2012. He reported 17,000 total hours of flight experience on that date.