INDIANAPOLIS — The pilot of a small plane that crashed in southeastern Indiana was navigating by onboard instruments in foggy, misty conditions when it plowed into a field, killing him and three passengers, a preliminary federal report shows.
Wednesday's report from the National Transportation Safety Board states that weather conditions were so poor at the time of the Dec. 2 crash that a pilot on a similar flight path diverted away from Greensburg and landed safely at another southern Indiana airport.
According to the report, witnesses also told investigators that pilot-activated runway lights were not illuminated when Donald Horan's single-engine Piper Malibu crashed about a mile from the Greensburg Municipal Airport, some 40 miles southeast of Indianapolis. Those runway lights were checked after the crash and were found to be working properly, the report said.
Those who died in the crash were: Horan, 46; his wife, Barbara, 45; and their friends Stephen Butz, 45, and Denise Butz, 42, all of Greensburg, died in the crash. The two couples were returning from Destin, Fla.
The preliminary report states that Horan had been cleared to approach the Greensburg airport about 13 minutes before the crash, at a time when witnesses estimated that cloud ceilings were at about 300 feet.
The report states that a witness told investigators he saw Horan's Piper "descend out of the clouds with no perceived pitch change or change in engine noise" just before it plowed into a field. The wreckage came to a rest nearly 300 feet away in a wooded area.
The NTSB's preliminary reports states that "no anomalies" were found during a detailed examination of the aircraft and its engine. But agency spokesman Keith Holloway said Thursday that only means investigators found no initial signs of problems with the aircraft.
"We haven't determined whether everything was working properly and we haven't ruled out anything," Holloway said.
A factual report with detailed crash findings will likely take between six and nine months to complete and the final crash report is expected in 12 to 18 months, he said.
Holloway said investigators in the coming months would be analyzing the plane's wreckage, GPS navigation devices recovered from the craft, witness interviews and reviewing the weather conditions at the time of the crash.
At the time of the crash, Horan was returning from Florida with his three passengers, while six other people who had been on the same weekend outing were in a second small plane. That plane attempted a landing at the Greensburg airport, but couldn't find the runway and instead landed about 30 miles away at a Columbus airport.