MONROE - The crash of a small airplane in Munson Park near Custer Airport nearly two years ago that killed all three people aboard was caused by pilot error, according to federal safety regulators.
The National Transportation Safety Board said the pilot, Rick Howell was attempting a high speed pass over the airport runway when he flew too close to the ground and the propeller struck the runway surface.
The repeated strikes damaged the propeller, causing the Piper Malibu Mirage to lose the necessary airspeed to continue flying, said the report posted Nov. 26 on the NTSB Web site.
The plane crashed in the nearby park less than a mile away from the runway, where it caught fire shortly after impact.
Mr. Howell, 58, of LaSalle, Mich., and two passengers, Nathan Brahier, 30, of Fremont, and Jeremy Tate, 40, of Oregon, were killed in the March 29, 2011 crash. Both men were employees of Mr. Howell's company, Conforming Matrix Corp. in Toledo.
The probable cause report said the landing gear and flaps on the Piper Mirage were retracted.
The NTSB also stated that undetermined levels of the painkillers Hydrocodone and Dihydrocodeine were present in the pilot's blood as well as Nortriptyline, a drug used to treat depression.
However, the investigation was unable to determine what role, if any, the drugs might have contributed to the accident.
The three men had flown in the plane earlier in the day from Custer Airport to Bedford, Pa., and were returning when the crash occurred.
The families of Mr. Brahier and Mr. Tate in October, 2011, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the estate of Mr. Howell in U.S. District Court in Toledo, alleging negligence on the part of the pilot, and asking for damages in excess of $75,000 for each family. A trial is scheduled to begin Feb. 12.