Watsonville plane crash: Expert says bigger plane was coming in to land too fast; 3 killed

Saturday, August 20, 2022
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The NTSB said it could take up to two years for a final report on the investigation following a plane collision in Watsonville that killed three.

WATSONVILLE, Calif. (KGO) -- The National Transportation Safety Board said on Friday it could take up to two years for a final report of the investigation to be issued following a plane collision in Watsonville that killed all three victims on board.

The NTSB said depending on the complexities of the investigation, a final report with a probable cause will be issued in about 12 to 24 months.

Three people died in a collision between two planes that were attempting to land at Watsonville Municipal Airport on Thursday, the Santa Cruz County Sheriff's Office confirmed Friday.

VIDEO: Surveillance footage shows aftermath of deadly Watsonville plane crash

"Any time that there is an accident or there's a concern, whether it's a loss of life, which is the most serious, or somebody has a flat tire on the ramp, it's a small community and there are people here who certainly are grieving," Watsonville Municipal Airport Director Rayvon Williams said.

The explosion was caught on surveillance cameras, showing a black cloud ascending into the sky.

The crash was reported around 3 p.m. Thursday involving a single-engine Cessna 152 with one person aboard and a twin-engine Cessna 340 with two people aboard as both planes were on their final approaches to the airport at 100 Aviation Way, Federal Aviation Administration spokesperson Ian Gregor said.

Watsonville city officials wrote on social media later Thursday confirming "multiple fatalities" in the collision, with Mayor Ari Parker saying the city was grieving "from this unexpected and sudden loss," before confirming on Friday the three fatalities.

The NTSB said on Friday the Watsonville Municipal Airport is an uncontrolled airport with no tower.

"The airport is an uncontrolled airport, there is no tower here," NTSB Air Safety Investigator Fabian Salazar said. "The aircraft people in traffic pattern will communicate through a common traffic advisory frequency. We are working to get the radio communications that were occurring that day."

NTSB said investigators said it will continue gathering evidence, including recovering the aircrafts, from the crash scene.

Names of the victims will be released by the "appropriate authorities here in the community," the agency added.

The FAA and NTSB are investigating the crash, which also damaged a hangar at the airport. The NSTB said it will also see if weather played role in the collision.

Pilots we spoke with nearby the airport, as well as Aviation News Talk Podcast Host Max Trescott, told us the pilots were in communication through the common traffic advisory frequency -- or CTAF -- just before the crash.

Trescott says he has done an investigation into the accident and said the bigger aircraft was coming in to land much faster than it should have been and only began to communicate with the other pilot involved about a mile away from the airport.

He adds the smaller plane did not have the transponder turned on, which allows other pilots to see the craft on their displays.

These were contributing factors in Trescott's opinion, but he thinks a tower could have also helped.

"At a towered airport, a controller would have given instructions to the twin, which was flying extremely fast, to slow down long before it reached the airport," Trescott said. "That didn't happen. In fact, this twin was going extremely fast and didn't get noted apparently by its pilot or by the other planes in the traffic pattern."

While Trescott said both pilots communicated through CTAF, they aren't legally required to do so. Most pilots at so-called uncontrolled airports choose to use CTAF because it's safer.

When asked about the tower, Airport Director Rayvon Williams told us Friday that the airport doesn't have the volume of traffic to support the cost of bringing a control tower to the field.

Bay City News contributed to this report.

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