BARTOW, Fla. (WFLA) – A pilot who perished with four others in a crash at the Bartow Municipal Airport on Christmas Eve had requested that the plane be towed to the runway because of the fog, according to a preliminary report released by the NTSB on Wednesday.
70-year-old John Shannon was piloting the plane which carried his two daughters, 24-year-old Olivia Shannon and 26-year-old Victoria Shannon-Worthington, as well as 27-year-old Peter Worthington Jr. and 32-year-old Krista Clayton.
All five occupants of the plane were pronounced dead at the scene shortly after the crash.
The NTSB preliminary report said that the pilot had to fly without radar because of the foggy weather conditions and Shannon had filed an instrument flight plan. Shannon and his passengers were headed to Key West International Airport when their plane crashed at 7:17 a.m., shortly after taking off at the Bartow airport.
Airport employees told investigators that around 6:30 a.m., Shannon requested that the airplane be towed from the pilot’s hangar to the ramp. The pilot wanted a tow because he didn’t want to taxi next to the other hangars with the reduced visibility due to the dense fog.
The five occupants boarded the plane inside the hangar and remained inside the airplane during the tow.
The pilot then very slowly taxied the airplane from the ramp to the end of runway 9L where the engine run-up was completed. According to the NTSB report, the employees then heard the airplane take off and proceed to the east.
The airport employees could not see the airplane because of the dense fog and low visibility, but they heard an explosion on the east side of the airport.
They drove to the explosion and found the main wreckage on fire and no occupants were immediately noticeable.
According to the NTSB report, another witness, who is a helicopter pilot, observed the airplane taxiing to the runway and about 12 minutes later heard the airplane take off.
He recorded a video of the airplane taxiing in the dense fog. During the takeoff, he heard a ‘pop’ and 3 seconds later heard the explosion near the end of runway 9L. He and a colleague drove to the accident site where they found the wreckage on fire and saw the airport employees nearby.
The witness estimated that the runway visual range was 600 to 800 ft due to the fog.
The responding Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) inspector stated that the main wreckage came to rest on the northeast side of runway 9L.
At 7:15 a.m., the automated weather observation station at BOW recorded calm wind, visibility less than ¼ statue mile, fog, overcast cloud layer at 300 ft, temperature 56°F, altimeter setting 30.18 inches of mercury.
The weather conditions had been the same since 6:35 a.m.
The pilot filed an IFR flight plan on a Garmin GPS device and received an IFR clearance from Tampa Air Traffic Control Tower.
The pilot did not request a weather briefing from Flight Service, according to the NTSB report.
The air traffic control tower was closed at the time of the accident.
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