BLOOMINGTON — Federal investigators have found no recordings with a distress call from the pilot of a twin-engine Cessna that crashed just east of Central Illinois Regional Airport early Tuesday morning, killing all seven people aboard.
Todd Fox, an air safety investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board’s Chicago office, said during a news conference Wednesday evening that the last recording from pilot Tom Hileman indicated he was taking an inbound approach to CIRA.
“No recordings had a distress call or indicated anything was wrong,” Fox said.
Killed in the crash were Hileman, owner of Hileman Aviation LLC; Scott Bittner, owner of Eureka Locker Co.; Andy Butler, national account manager, Sprint/Nextel; Jason Jones, senior vice president/investment officer, Secord-Jones Wealth Management Group; Aaron Leetch, Illinois State University deputy director of athletics for external operation; Terry Stralow, co-owner of Pub II, Normal; and Torrey Ward, ISU associate head men’s basketball coach.
NTSB investigators have reviewed communications between Hileman and Peoria air traffic controllers and “nonofficial sources that record data.”
Peoria gave Hileman the final approach course for an instrument landing before the plane was switched to “local frequency,” which is not monitored. It was on the “nonofficial” local frequency that Hileman said he was taking an inbound approach.
Fox said there is no radar available “for the vast portion of the descent,” but it resumed about 1½ miles from the end of the runway.
The plane went into a climb at 1 mile and made a left turn to go east, Fox said. The plane climbed, then descended, going about 2½ miles.
Fox said the “prescribed missed approach procedure” for a plane in this scenario would be to go up 1,500 feet and turn right (west) while in a climb.
He would not speculate why the plane went to the left instead of right, saying there could be a variety of reasons, including the weather.
On Tuesday, Fox said preliminary reports showed a low cloud ceiling, fog and possibly light rain at the time of the crash. On Wednesday, he said investigators were still gathering information on weather conditions.
The group was returning from the NCAA basketball championship game in Indianapolis. The crash occurred shortly after midnight, but was not discovered until about 3 a.m. Tuesday.
Fox said investigators started examining the plane’s frame, flight control system and two engines on Wednesday. The plane was moved from the crash site to a CIRA hangar on Tuesday.
Investigators found no fractures in the crankshaft but plan to do a “full teardown.” There was “cable continuity” in the flight control system from the tail to the cockpit and from the wings to the fuselage, he said.
The instrument panel will be dismantled on Thursday and a representative from the propeller manufacturer will join the team. NTSB already has team members that include representatives from the air-frame and engine manufacturers as well as the Federal Aviation Administration.
Fox said it is not uncommon to bring in additional people as the investigation continues and it was warranted.
The team also has reviewed communications with air traffic controllers at the Peoria airport. CIRA does not have controllers after 10 p.m. Fox said the communications were “normal” for an instrument landing approach. The team plans more review of the communications.
The team also has received the maintenance log for the plane and is in the process of reviewing it, he said.
They are taking an inventory of what was found on the aircraft to determine if there is any data available. Such planes do not have “black boxes.”
Fox said “to the best of our knowledge” the runway approach lights were working as they were supposed to at that time of night.
The team will remain in Bloomington until the end of the week. Peter Knudson of the NTSB said there will be no more news conferences but a preliminary report will be released next week.
The full report on the crash likely will not be available for a year to 18 months, Fox said Tuesday.