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NTSB Preliminary Report on Cherokee Accident Released

Crash claimed the lives of Oklahoma State women’s basketball coach and assistant coach

November 29, 2011 – The NTSB’s preliminary report on the crash of a Piper Cherokee 180 near Perryville, Arkansas, on November 17 that killed all four people aboard sheds very little light on what may have gone wrong, but does contain some eyewitness accounts that were not widely reported in the general news media. The accident gained national attention because of the high profile of the college coaches who were passengers.

The highly experienced pilot and owner of the Cherokee and his wife, who was also a pilot, landed at Stillwater, Oklahoma in the early afternoon to pick up the two coaches who were making a recruiting trip to Little Rock, Arkansas. The pilot held a flight instructor certificate along with decades of experience and other advanced ratings.

The Cherokee did not take on any fuel at Stillwater, and did not file a flight plan for the trip. The weather was good VFR. There were no en route communications between the pilot and controllers, but the NTSB determined that radar records show the Cherokee cruising at 7,000 feet. Radar returns then showed the airplane entering a tight right descending turn and then disappearing from radar coverage.

The NTSB reports that witnesses in the area of the crash saw the Cherokee “flying at a low altitude and making turns.” The same witnesses then saw the airplane enter a steep nose-low attitude and descend into the terrain. The NTSB does not indicate that witnesses heard any unusual engine sounds. There were no communications with controllers at any time.

The Cherokee crashed in heavily wooded terrain and the NTSB determined that ground scars and marks on trees are consistent with a steep nose-low attitude at the time of impact. The impact crater was about 10 feet in diameter, 3.5 feet deep, and contained most of the airplane.

The NTSB typically takes about a year to determine a probable cause of an accident, but because of the notoriety of the passengers it may issue updates as the investigation proceeds.

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