APPLE CREEK — The National Transportation Safety Board has released its preliminary report on the airplane crash that killed two Apple Creek men late last month, outlining the moments that led up to the accident.

The report, dated Jan. 30, cites a witness who saw the aircraft — a 32-seat, two-engine 1942 Douglas DC-3 cargo plane — take off from Stoltzfus Airfield near Preferred Airparts shortly after 9 a.m. Jan. 21.

The witness saw the plane take off about a third of the way down the runway, according to the report. Soon after taking off, the witness noticed white smoke coming from the plane’s left engine.

“The airplane began to veer to the left and did not climb normally,” the NTSB report found. “The witness watched the airplane descend over a building until he lost sight of it.”

The plane struck power lines and trees before crashing about 200 yards from the end of the runway from which it took off. Pilot Brian L. Stoltzfus, 55, and co-pilot Curtis R. Wilkerson, 56 — died in the crash near the intersection of Hackett and Kansas roads.

The NTSB has retained the airplane wreckage, including both engines, the cockpit voice recorder, and the aircraft data acquisition module, for further examination, according to the report. A note on the report indicates that the NTSB did not travel to the scene of the accident.

The partial federal government shutdown initially delayed the NTSB’s preliminary investigation into the crash. The agency’s full investigation, including a determination of probable cause of the crash, will likely take 12 to 24 months, agency spokesman Peter Knudson said.

“It takes some time to rule things out and narrow down what the probable cause or causes were,” Knudson said.

Knudson said the NTSB’s full investigation looks at three specific areas: the pilot, the aircraft and the operating conditions at the time of the accident.

As the full investigation progresses, the NTSB will rule out factors that could have contributed to the crash before determining the probable cause or causes of the crash, as well as any possible contributing factors, Knudson said.

Federal officials have investigated three previous crashes at Stoltzfus Airfield dating back 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 from Stoltzfus Airfield. The plane’s pilot, a Virginia man, and three passengers, all from Apple Creek, died in the crash. Another Apple Creek man suffered serious injuries.


Reporter Jack Rooney can be reached at 330-287-1645 or He is on Twitter at