Investigators looking for the cause of a commuter plane crash that killed five people focused Tuesday on a snapped propeller blade.
Two passengers aboard Atlantic Southeast Airlines Flight 529 said the left engine on the Embraer 120 turboprop blew up shortly after the plane reached cruising speed. The plane went down in a hayfield Monday afternoon.
Investigators recovered the left engine’s propeller, minus most of its blade. But John Hammerschmidt of the National Transportation Safety Board said it was unclear whether the blade snapped off before or after the crash.
And even if it broke before, he indicated, it might not have caused the accident. The twin-engine plane is certified to fly on one engine, Hammerschmidt said.
An eight-inch piece of the propeller blade, which was stuck in the propeller’s hub, was sent to Washington for analysis.
An Embraer 120 that crashed in Georgia in 1991, killing former Sen. John Tower of Texas and 22 others, went down after a worn part in its left propeller control system failed.
In Monday’s crash, the plane’s engines were part of the PW-100 family made by Pratt & Whitney Canada, a subsidiary of U.S.-based United Technologies Corp.
Company spokesman Jose Jacome described the engines as workhorses of the commuter industry, used in the deHavilland Dash 8, the ATR-42, the Fokker 50 and the Embraer 120.
The plane was carrying 26 passengers and three crew members to Gulfport, Miss.
Pilot Ed Gannaway and four passengers were killed, and 24 people were hurt. Fourteen of the injured remained hospitalized Tuesday, six in critical condition.
Gannaway had reported engine trouble and was apparently trying to make it to West Georgia Regional Airport. Passengers and witnesses on the ground credited him with dodging houses, wires and trees.