Witness to Hawaii skydive crash reported engines sounded OK

HONOLULU (AP) — The National Transportation Safety Board says a witness to the skydiving plane crash that killed 11 people in Hawaii reported the plane’s engines sounded normal before takeoff, but shortly after the plane left the ground it became inverted and crashed nose down.

The NTSB’s preliminary report was released Tuesday. No cause for the crash was given, which is typical for preliminary reports.

The plane crashed just after leaving Oahu’s Dillingham Airfield on June 21. There were no survivors.

“The occupants on the accident flight included the pilot, three tandem parachute instructors and their three customers, and two camera operators; two solo jumpers decided to join the accident flight at the last minute,” the NTSB report said.

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The final seconds of the flight were captured by airport surveillance video. An NTSB spokesman said the footage could not be released at this time.

It was the deadliest civil aviation accident in the U.S. since a 2011 crash at an air show in Nevada that killed 10 people.

The NTSB report said plane was being operated by Oahu Parachute Center and was owned by N80896 LLC.

The president of that California company, William Garcia, confirmed to The Associated Press that he was the registered owner of the aircraft. His company also owned the airplane when it was in another skydiving accident in California in 2016.

In the immediate aftermath of the crash, the NTSB called on the Federal Aviation Administration to tighten its regulations governing parachute operations.

The NTSB recommended to the FAA more than a decade ago that it strengthen its rules on pilot training, aircraft maintenance and inspection, board member Jennifer Homendy told a news conference in Honolulu.

The FAA hasn’t acted on those recommendations, she said.

“Are we trying to put the FAA on notice for this? Yes,” Homendy said. “We identified several safety concerns in 2008 with respect to parachute jump operations. Accidents continue to happen. There have been fatalities since that time.”

FAA spokesman Ian Gregor said in a statement that safety is the agency’s top priority.

“The FAA takes NTSB recommendations very seriously, and implemented a number of changes to address recommendations the NTSB made about parachuting operations,” the statement said.

The NTSB cited pilot error in the 2016 accident involving the same plane, which went into a spinning nosedive with a group of skydivers on board.

The skydivers were able to jump out of the plane safely, and the pilot recovered and was able to safely land. The aircraft sustained significant damage.

The NTSB investigation said the plane lost a piece of horizontal stabilizer and its elevator broke off. Investigators also concluded the plane was too heavily weighted toward the back, which was also blamed on the pilot.

The aircraft was then repaired before being sent to Oahu and flown again.

“We will be looking at the quality of those repairs and whether it was inspected and whether it was airworthy,” the NTSB’s Homendy said after the crash.

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Associated Press writer Jennifer Sinco Kelleher contributed to this report.

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