No Distress Calls Preceded Fatal Piper Crash

The aircraft began losing altitude shortly after taking off in Louisiana.

National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigators are looking into what led a Piper PA31-T Cheyenne II turboprop twin to enter into a steep decline after takeoff from Lafayette [Louisiana] Regional Airport (LFT) and crash into a U.S. Post Office parking lot on December 28. The accident resulted in the death of five of six people aboard, including the daughter-in-law of the offensive coordinator of the Louisana State University (LSU) football team. The sixth person aboard and one person on the ground were seriously injured, and two others on the ground were injured as well.

The 1980 model Cheyenne departed from Runway 22L from LFT at about 9:20 a.m. local time  for what was to have been a flight to Atlanta-DeKalb Peachtree Airport (PDK) ahead of the LSU-Oklahoma University playoff game in Atlanta. NTSB vice chairman Bruce Landsberg told reporters that the aircraft reached an altitude of 900 feet and started a left descending turn. Air traffic control issued a low-altitude alert warning as the aircraft passed through 700 feet before it crashed.

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She never took off but hit a building and a fence and seriously damaged the aircraft.

Two witnesses described the aircraft as being in a “steep left bank turn…then rolling about wing’s level” just before striking power lines and trees by an apartment complex and coming to rest in the post office lot, according to the investigator in charge, Jennifer Rodi.

There was no distress call that NTSB was aware of, nor was there a flight data recorder. The wreckage debris field spanned about one-quarter mile, Landsberg said, noting that “it’s a very sobering situation.” Avionics were “pretty badly damaged,” he reported, noting that the “wreckage is in pretty rough shape” between the impact damage and ensuing fire damage. But the NTSB does have two videos, and airport radar is available.

Visibility at the time was three-quarters of a mile, wind was five knots, and there was a cloud base at 200 feet.

Landsberg was joining eight NTSB investigators on-site who were examining the wreckage, systems, weather, radar, and other aspects of the crash.