Malfunctioning instrument led to crash of governor's plane

Wednesday, June 5, 2002

Associated Press WriterWASHINGTON (AP) -- A federal probe of the plane crash that killed Gov. Mel Carnahan, his son and an aide has found that an instrument used by pilots to navigate through rain and fog malfunctioned the night the craft went down in a storm, sources told The Associated Press Wednesday.

Two people who have seen the report -- due for public release later Wednesday -- said the plane's attitude indicator, which helps guide a pilot when storms reduce visibility, failed and disoriented pilot Randy Carnahan. The sources spoke on condition of anonymity.

The NTSB's findings follow the release of thousands of files and documents in the 19 months since the Oct. 16, 2000 crash that killed the governor, his son Randy and political aide Chris Sifford.

The report marks the agency's final word on the probable cause of the crash.

A transcript of Randy Carnahan's conversation with air traffic controllers, released last year by NTSB, shows the pilot struggled with failed instruments as he flew through stormy skies.

"We've got our hands full right now," he said, when asked the altitude of his twin-engine plane.

Moments later, he said, "We got a primary attitude indicator that's not reading properly."

Also called the artificial horizon, the attitude indicator helps guide a pilot when storms reduce visibility, telling whether a plane is banking and whether the nose is high or low. It is powered by a vacuum pump and manifold system, which is at the heart of wrongful death lawsuits filed by the victims' families.

The families say the vacuum system malfunctioned and caused the crash, while the defendants in the case have said negligence by Randy Carnahan led to the crash.

But the report describes Randy Carnahan as a safe and conscientious pilot. Investigators confirmed he was in excellent health and had completed extensive training in the aircraft, a twin-engine Cessna 335.

The report also says Randy Carnahan was known to cancel trips when weather conditions were unfavorable.

A report released earlier this year by the NTSB found no indication that the vacuum system was inoperative at the time of the crash. However, the Carnahans' attorney said the finding contradicts metallurgical testing done by the NTSB and the family's engineers and consultants.

Friends and family told NTSB investigators that Randy Carnahan was a meticulous pilot who never flew when he was tired and that he often canceled trips because of bad weather.

The governor died three weeks before the election in which he sought the U.S. Senate seat held by Republican John Ashcroft, now the U.S. attorney general. Despite his death Carnahan outpolled Ashcroft and the governor's widow, Jean, was appointed to serve the first two years of the six-year term that would have been his. She is now campaigning for election in November to finish out the term.

------On the Net:

National Transportation Safety Board: http://www.ntsb.gov

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