NTSB report concludes Staunton pilot was intoxicated at time of Crozet plane crash

NTSB report concludes Staunton pilot was intoxicated at time of Crozet plane crash
Site of a plane crash in Crozet (FILE) (Source: WHSV)

CROZET, Va. (WHSV) — The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has issued its investigative report into a 2018 Crozet plane crash that killed a Staunton pilot.

On April 15, a Cessna 525 piloted by 51-year-old Kent Carr, who was a long-time Staunton resident, crashed into several trees and then a slope near Crozet.

The crash happened with rain and mist in the area and lightning detected to the northeast and south of the closest airport, Charlottesville-Albemarle Airport (CHO).

However, Lockheed Martin Flight Services said in the days after the crash that Carr had made no contact with them. According to a preliminary report from the NTSB issued about two weeks after the fatal crash, Carr had not filed a flight plan when he took off from Richmond Executive – Chesterfield County Airport (FCI) around 8:35 p.m., destined for the Shenandoah Valley Regional Airport (SHD) in Weyers Cave.

The NTSB’s final report, issued this week, found that Carr was intoxicated at the time of the crash.

According to the report, a friend of Carr told the NTSB that he had had "a couple of drinks" with dinner that night and left her home around 7:30 p.m.

The friend told investigators she thought he was going to a hotel for the night, since it was getting dark, but security video from the FCI airport showed that he arrived just after 8 p.m. and walked to the Cessna 525, which he personally owned.

Carr had a private pilot certificate with ratings for airplane single-engine land, multiengine land, and instrument airplane. He had a type rating for the Cessna and also held a third-class medical certificate issued in 2016.

Under FAA guidelines, third-class medical certificates are designed for student, recreational and private pilots.

He had logged just over 700 hours of flight experience in total and family members said the day before the crash, he had flown to Richmond to perform a flight review.

But on that night, the NTSB says Carr walked around the plane for about three minutes, as seen on surveillance video, boarded the plane, closed the main cabin door, and then initiated the engine start sequence at 8:17 p.m.

About two minutes later, the plane began to taxi to the departure end of a runway and then began takeoff at 8:33 p.m.

The FAA prohibits any person from acting or attempting to act as a crew member on an aircraft within eight hours of having any alcoholic beverage.

According to the NTSB, an airport employee said Carr did not communicate on the Unicom frequency while taking off.

The weather conditions at the airport at the time were wind from 140° at 12 knots, 10 miles visibility, and broken cloud ceilings at 3,200 and 4,000 ft above ground level.

But along Carr's flight route to Weyers Cave, the conditions were significantly worse.

The weather observation in Charlottesville had wind from 020° at 4 knots, visibility 2 ½ miles, rain and mist, broken clouds at 700 ft agl, overcast clouds at 1,500 ft., and lightning detected to the northeast and south.

There were two SIGMET advisories in effect for the Crozet area: one for a line of severe thunderstorms moving at 40 knots with hail up to an inch and wind gusts, as well as separate advisory with the same severe thunderstorm information but differently listed cloud top levels.

Three Bombardier CRJ-200 airplanes that had recently passed through the area near CHO had issued urgent pilot reports about moderate turbulence in the vicinity and overcast conditions.

According to Lockheed Martin Flight Services, Carr did not obtain a weather briefing or use their direct user access terminal service for his flight, however.

From 8:42 p.m. to 8:47 p.m., the NTSB says Carr flew through a thunderstorm line on his way to Weyers Cave. There were no lightning strikes within 10 miles of the crash site around the accident time, however.

According to air traffic control data provided by the FAA, radar showed that Carr's plane reached a maximum altitude of 11,500 ft. at 8:40 p.m., then descended and leveled off at an altitude of 4,300 ft. (below the minimum safe altitude of 5,700 ft. for SHD guidelines) at 8:44 p.m.

The plane stayed at that altitude until 8:53 p.m., which is when radar shows it began a descending left turn.

The last two radar returns were 5 seconds apart and showed the airplane at 3,300 ft and 2,800 msl, which indicated that the airplane was descending about 6,000 ft per minute. Radar lost contact at 8:54 p.m.

A witness near the crash site told investigators he heard the "screaming of the engines" and felt the ground shake when the plane made impact shortly afterward.

At the time of the crash, the witness said the cloud ceiling was "really low" and there was heavy rain in the Crozet area.

The plane hit three 40-feet trees and then crashed into a slope, leaving an impact crater 4-feet deep.

The plane was "highly fragmented" after the crash, according to the NTSB, with the left engine in the impact crater and the right engine about 60 feet past the impact location.

The Commonwealth of Virginia Department of Health, Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, performed an autopsy on Carr.

The autopsy report indicated that he died of multiple blunt force trauma injuries.

A toxicology test performed at the FAA's Forensic Sciences Laboratory identified ethanol at 0.080 gm/hg, which equates to 0.080 gm/dl and cetirizine in his muscle tissue.

Cetirizine is a sedating antihistamine available over the counter and by prescription that carries a warning to avoid driving a motor vehicle or operating machinery due to possible drowsiness. It also warns to avoid alcohol use because of increased drowsiness.

As far as ethanol, Title 14 CFR 91.17 of FAA regulations prohibits anyone from acting as a crew member with 0.040 gm/dl or more ethanol in their system. Regulations also prohibit anyone from flying within 8 hours of drinking.

Final NTSB reports, like this one, typically take years to produce. You can read the full report here.

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