Investigators search wreckage for cause of fatal Sonoma plane crash

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When investigators from the FAA and NTSB arrived at the crash site Friday morning they found a crumpled Cirrus SR22 plane and descriptions from witnesses of an engine failure shortly after take off from the Sonoma Skypark. (KGO-TV)

When investigators from the FAA and NTSB arrived at the crash site Friday morning they found a crumpled Cirrus SR22 plane and descriptions from witnesses of an engine failure shortly after take off from the Sonoma Skypark.

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"When the engine stopped, it became a glider and looked really good," said airport manager Ron Price. "I was hoping they could land in that field."

Instead, for reasons unknown, pilot Bill Goldman pulled the handle on the parachute designed to save planes in distress. It worked on June 30 near Davis, when a pilot and passenger walked away after an engine failure.

But it did not work in Sonoma for a plane at maybe 300 feet, according to witnesses.

"The parachute needs about a thousand feet to deploy, and that is only if you're lucky," said San Rafael aviation attorney Lou Franecke. He made a case against Cirrus after a similar crash.

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He cannot discuss the settlement terms but insists the plane has a flaw. "The parachute is used to deploy when you have a problem," Franecke told ABC7 News. "And the problem with the Cirrus is its aerodynamic characteristics are awful in stall."

The Cirrus Aircraft Company makes a selling point of the plane's built-in parachute.

Today it told us: The Cirrus Aircraft whole-plane parachute system has been deployed 72 times over the last 18 years, resulting in 148 saved lives who were returned to their families.

But as Coast Guard video shows, deployment does not happen instantly. It takes a few seconds for the straps to deploy, the chute to fill, and for the plane to level.

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Friday, witnesses say the plane landed almost nose first. Would the chute have made a difference at low altitude? The company says it can work at 400 feet.

"If you are straight and level," said Franecke. "But if you are straight and level, why would you deploy the parachute?

The answers may lie somewhere in the wreckage.

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