The National Transportation Safety Board has released the preliminary report for the small aircraft crash that killed four people near the Dinsmore Airport in eastern Humboldt County on July 15.
According to the report, the Mooney M20J fixed-wing single-engine plane took off from Fullerton Municipal Airport at 7 a.m. en route to Perris Valley Airport “to pick up two rear passengers who were interested in purchasing a land parcel in Humboldt County.”
The four occupants left Perris Valley Airport around 7:30 a.m.
“A witness, located 0.25 miles east from the departure end of runway 09 at (the Dinsmore Airport), observed the accident airplane circling the area around the airport twice before it landed on runway 27,” the preliminary report stated. “… He then observed the airplane taxi down runway 09 before it had made a complete stop mid-runway and three individuals disembarked.”
After the three occupants boarded the aircraft again, the pilot taxied toward the arrival end of the runway and accelerated down the runway.
Although it remains unclear what exactly caused the accident, the report noted that the pilot suddenly “jerked” the nose of the aircraft upward during takeoff and shortly thereafter collided with a nearby redwood tree.
“The pilot rotated just short of the displaced threshold and according to the witness, barely cleared the fence,” the report went on. “The rotation was not smooth and it appeared as the pilot suddenly pulled the nose up or ‘jerked it.’ … A video from a security camera located 300 feet east of the departure end of runway 09 revealed that the airplane took off towards the east. The wreckage was located about 1,600 feet beyond the departure end of runway 09. … Examination of the accident site revealed that the airplane’s right wing impacted a tall redwood tree.”
Upon impact, the right wing separated from the aircraft and fell to the ground under the tree.
The four people whose remains were recovered at the crash site were identified as Henry Punt, 69, of Los Angeles County, Steve Sanz, 63, of Orange County, Jacquie Ann Figg, 56, of San Bernardino County and Kenneth John Malinowski, 62, of Sacramento County.
Humboldt County Sheriff spokesperson Samantha Karges previously confirmed that Punt was the owner of the plane and one of two pilots on board. Karges could not say which pilot “had the controls at the time of the crash.”
Reached by email Monday morning, NTSB spokesperson Jennifer Gabris noted that the preliminary report only includes “factual information available to date” and does not include an analysis of the accident.
“The final report will include an analysis of the factual information and evidence and a determination of probable cause,” she said. “The majority of fatal aviation accident investigations are completed in 12 and 24 months.”
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