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Plane’s Load Found Too Heavy in Fatal Crash

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A plane that crashed early this year at Burbank Airport, killing all four occupants, was carrying too much weight and the flight instructor who may have been piloting the craft had traces of alcohol and marijuana in his blood, the National Transportation Safety Board reported Tuesday.

The findings did not constitute a ruling on the cause of the fiery crash on Jan. 18. They were contained in an investigator’s analysis of the crash that will be used by the safety board to determine a probable cause.

NTSB Air Safety Investigator Thomas H. Wilcox said it was unclear whether the amounts of alcohol and marijuana discovered were sufficient to have impaired a pilot’s judgment.

“Was his judgment impaired? Was his reaction time slow? I don’t know. But he crashed the plane,” Wilcox said.

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The single-engine Piper Cherokee crashed shortly after taking off on a training flight to Santa Barbara with four certified pilots aboard. The victims were Lawrence W. Anderson Jr., 30, of Thousand Oaks, who was also a flight instructor; Jeffrey Fader, 28, of Canyon Country; Ingvar H. Gronberg, 27, of Burbank; and George E. Kraft, 33, of Marina Del Rey.

Crash investigators found no engine or other mechanical failure, officials said in January.

Wilcox said Tuesday the total safe weight limit for the plane and its contents was 2,325 pounds, but the estimated weight with the four occupants, fuel and baggage was 110 pounds more than that.

He said the plane would have been able to take off with that weight but the pilot also apparently attempted a steep banking turn that doubled the gravity force on the plane, requiring an extreme amount of power to overcome the weight.

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“The effect of the weight was compounded by the steep turn,” Wilcox said. “They hit a power limitation.” Because the engine “just was not producing” enough power, the plane dropped almost vertically, its left wing striking the ground first, he said.

Fader was in the pilot’s seat and Anderson, the flight instructor, was in the co-pilot’s seat at the time of the crash. But only the steering yoke in front of Anderson was broken, indicating that he was gripping it--flying the plane--on impact, Wilcox said.

“Normally during an emergency situation, the flight instructor will take control,” he said.

Wilcox said that toxicological tests performed on Anderson’s body were positive for cannabinoids and ethanol, chemicals found in marijuana and alcohol. Wilcox declined to say what amount of the chemicals were found.

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It was unknown if there was enough of either chemical to impair Anderson’s judgment, he said, but it is a violation of federal flight rules for a pilot to fly a plane with any amount of those chemicals in the blood.

Tests on the other victims found no alcohol or drugs, Wilcox said.


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