The Ottumwa Courier

November 30, 2012

Report details 2011 fatal plane crash

MARK NEWMAN
Courier Staff Writer

OTTUMWA — Federal investigators have finished gathering information on a fatal plane crash that occurred in Ottumwa last year.

Around 5:30 p.m. June  30, 2011, a small plane crashed a few hundred feet short of a runway at Ottumwa Regional Airport. Bystanders who saw or heard the crash rushed to help the pilot. Despite the risk, they removed the pilot from the burning plane.

Pilot Rex Yoakam, 60, of Hedrick, survived the crash but died hours later due to his injuries.

The Federal Aviation Administration found that the plane impacted terrain and a tree while attempting to land at the Ottumwa airport.

Federal investigators talked to witnesses, inspected the crash site and put parts of the engine back together to see if it ran without trouble. The cause of death was listed, and a final autopsy report last month found medicine typically used for the treatment of rapid heartbeat. None of these factors was listed as contributing to the crash, but any of the details could be important as experts struggle to discover why the plane crashed.

“This is why [it takes time and] people wonder what’s taking so long,” said FAA spokesman Tony Molinaro at the agency’s Kansas City office.

Because there was a fatality, the National Traffic Safety Board runs the investigation.  

“We gather all the information for the investigation, then hand it over to the NTSB,” Molinaro said.

The current three-page “Factual Information Report” will be used by the NTSB to issue a final statement, a “probable cause” report. There is no timeline, however, on when the cause will be determined.

A spokesman at the NTSB on Thursday said it’s “usually within a couple months” that the final report will be issued.

What is known, however, is that the plane was having some sort of problems in the days prior to the crash.

This initial report says the  pilot flew the airplane to Ottumwa on June 28 and fueled up, but when he went to leave, was unable to start the plane. A receipt for parts to repair the starter was dated June 30.

A witness to the accident reported that he had talked with Yoakam for about an hour prior to the accident. They reportedly discussed the airplane’s glide characteristics in the event of engine failure. Yoakam said if the engine were to quit that he would have to put the airplane into a dive and get it on the ground.

The witness said after their conversation the pilot took off in the “accident airplane” and performed two low passes down the runway and then left the area. The flight from Ottumwa was going to the pilot's private airstrip near Hedrick.

The witness was in flight later when, in the distance, he saw Yoakam’s plane  approaching. First, it overflew the runway from above other traffic. The airplane proceeded past the end of runway and turned left onto what the witness believed was an approach for runway 22.

When the airplane was on the crosswind part of the approach, “the witness saw the nose of the airplane pitch down and descended and maneuvered toward  the  airport. The airplane subsequently struck a farm field and then a tree. A post-impact fire ensued.”

The plane was “an amateur-built Ray Aerial Spraying model 773 Racer reminiscent of a 1930s air racer.” It had a wingspan of 21.5 feet and a Ranger V-12 engine providing 520 horsepower.

“The direction of travel and location of impact were consistent with an attempted return to the runway,” the report states.

Around that time, recorded weather conditions showed 16 mph winds, 10 miles visibility and clear skies. After the initial impact, the airplane traveled about 250 feet before coming to rest.

Both wings were almost completely consumed by fire.

Examination of the airplane’s flight control system, engine and ignition system revealed no evidence of a pre-impact failure or malfunction.

The carburetor had extensive fire damage, so no guess could be made on how it was running. No evidence that the fire erupted in-flight was found.

This was a qualified pilot, the report indicates. Yoakam also held a mechanic certificate with airframe and powerplant ratings. He had medical clearance issued in July 2010.

Yoakam held a commercial pilot certificate with airplane single-engine land, single-engine sea, multi-engine land and instrument airplane  ratings. An FAA review of records indicated he had 6,581.8 hours of total flight time, most in single-engine airplanes.