APPLE CREEK — The partial federal government shutdown likely will delay the full investigation into the Wayne County airplane crash that killed two Apple Creek men Monday morning.
Lt. Stephanie Norman, commander of the Wooster post of the Ohio State Highway Patrol, said troopers handed over their initial investigation to officials from the Federal Aviation Administration on Tuesday afternoon.
But the National Transportation Safety Board won’t be able to begin its investigation until the shutdown ends, a spokesperson said Tuesday. The NTSB is responsible for investigating and determining the probable cause of every civil aviation accident in the United States.
“Due to the partial government shutdown, the majority of the National Transportation Safety Board’s employees are currently furloughed and will not be able to respond to major accidents, as well as other accidents where specific risks to transportation safety exists unless there’s a specific risk involved that could result in imminent loss of life,” Dolline Hatchett, acting director of the NTSB’s Office of Safety Recommendations and Communications, said in a written statement.
“The NTSB will investigate any safety-related issues that caused the tragic DC-3 accident once the partial government shutdown is over and the agency’s investigators return to work,” Hatchett’s statement concluded.
In the meantime, Norman said the patrol’s initial investigation found engine issues may have caused the crash of the 32-seat, two-engine 1942 Douglas DC-3 cargo plane. Both pilot and co-pilot of the plane — Brian L. Stoltzfus, 55, and Curtis R. Wilkerson, 56, respectively — died in the crash near the intersection of Hackett and Kansas roads.
The crash occurred shortly after the plane took off from Stoltzfus Airfield near Preferred Airparts, the company Brian Stoltzfus owned and co-founded in 1982 with his father, Ken Stoltzfus Sr., and brother, Ken Stoltzfus Jr.
FAA spokesman Gregory Martin said the shutdown has had no impact on that agency’s response to the crash. He said the agency was not in a position to say exactly how long its investigation will take, but estimated it could be a matter of weeks up to a month or two.
The FAA’s investigation, Martin said, will look into aspects including “present operating conditions, the aircraft’s prior maintenance and certification history, as well as the pilot’s record.”
Federal officials have investigated three previous crashes at Stoltzfus Airfield dating to 1991, according to NTSB records. Two of those crashes occurred within a month of each other in 2000, the latter of which killed four people and seriously injured one other.
The previous fatal crash took place on the morning of Sept. 22, 2000, shortly after a 1976 Piper Cherokee Six 300 took off. The plane’s pilot, a Virginia man, and three passengers, all from Apple Creek, died in the crash. Another Apple Creek man sustained serious injuries.
The group was on its way to Burke Lakefront Airport in Cleveland for the annual Labor Day air show when the plane failed to gain enough altitude on take off, struck a set of power lines and crashed into a wooded area on Lautenschlager Road, just east of Carr Road. NTSB investigators determined the probable causes of the crash to be the pilot’s premature liftoff and failure to attain a proper climb rate. Low clouds that morning and the plane’s weight also factored in the crash, the NTSB found.
Monday’s crash was also not the first fatal crash for Kidron-based Priority Air Charter, the company that Brian Stoltzfus owned and co-founded with his brother Ken Stoltzfus Jr. in 1997. According to NTSB records, a pilot flying for Priority Air Charter died on March 15, 2002, when the Cessna 208 Caravan he was flying crashed about 15 miles east of Alma, Wisc.
NTSB investigators found the pilot failed to remove ice from the plane before takeoff from Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and intentionally flew into severe icing conditions.
Ken Stotlzfus Sr. said at the time the accident was the company’s first fatal crash.