Family of pilot blame crash on engine failure

  • Plane-debris

    Debris from the plane that crashed in Monroe's Munson Park is loaded onto a truck to be delivered for investigators to study.

    The Blade/Andy Morrison
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  • Debris from the plane that crashed in Monroe's Munson Park is loaded onto a truck to be delivered for investigators to study.
    Debris from the plane that crashed in Monroe's Munson Park is loaded onto a truck to be delivered for investigators to study.
    MONROE -- The family of the LaSalle, Mich., pilot and Toledo businessman who was killed Tuesday believe his plane was experiencing engine problems that caused it to crash into a Monroe park.

    "We don't know anything. All we know is that it was mechanical failure. Until other reports come out that is all we know," said Tracy Bowman, the daughter of Rick E. Howell, who was the pilot of the plane.

    Mr. Howell, 58, and Nathan Brahier, 30, of Fremont and Jeremy Tate, 40, of Oregon were returning to Custer Airport after flying to Pennsylvania for a one-day business trip.

    The single-engine plane crashed near tennis courts in Munson Park, less than a mile from the airport runway, killing all three men.

    Mr. Howell was president of Conforming Matrix Corp. on Suder Avenue in North Toledo. Mr. Brahier and Mr. Tate were employees of the firm.

    As part of its investigation, the National Transportation Safety Board will check the plane's recent flight history, including such details as when it had last been refueled. It also examine the wreckage to determine, to the extent possible, the likelihood of a mechanical failure.

    Even in crashes like this one where fire destroys significant parts of the aircraft, clues are often available that engines or other mechanical systems were, or were not, working properly.

    Staff at the Bedford, Pa., airport said the Howell airplane took on no fuel during the time it was there Wednesday. Specifications for the Piper Malibu Mirage indicate, however, that a round trip could be made between Monroe and Bedford using only about half of the plane's fuel capacity, assuming flight at normal speeds and optimal cruising altitude.

    Rick E. Howell, left, was the pilot of the single-engine plane. Jeremy Tate, center, and Nathan Brahier were passengers.
    Rick E. Howell, left, was the pilot of the single-engine plane. Jeremy Tate, center, and Nathan Brahier were passengers.
    Price of "100 Low Lead" fuel at Bedford was $5.30 per gallon as of Wednesday. That's well within the range of prices that have been charged this month at airports in Michigan, and in fact within a penny of the statewide average posted by for recent price samples.

    The safety board also reviews the airplane's maintenance and repair history, reviews the pilot's medical history and retraces his actions leading up to the accident, and even checks the weather as a potential contributing factor.

    The weather report from Custer Airport at 4 p.m. Tuesday was clear skies with a 7 mph wind from the south and 43 degrees air temperature.

    NTSB investigations of small, private-plane crashes typically take from 12 to 18 months to complete.

    Mitchell Gallo, an air safety investigator with NTSB, said at the crash scene yesterday that there was no known distress call from the plane before the crash. He said the plane does not have a cockpit data recorder -- commonly known as a black box -- but some information could be available from its computerized instruments.

    Mrs. Bowman said her father bought the Conforming Matrix company in 1994. She works in the company's accounting office.

    The company said in a statement that the three men were flying back to Custer Airport when the plane crashed.

    "Collectively, we offer our sincerest condolences to Rick's, Jeremy's and Nathan's families. There are no words that can adequately express the depth of our sorrow. These individuals were each exceptional people and will be deeply missed. At this difficult time, we ask that everyone keep the families in their thoughts and prayers, and to please continue to offer their support and sympathy."

    Jeff Tate, a brother of Jeremy Tate, said the three men had traveled to Pennsylvania on a sales trip, and had left Custer Airport in the morning.

    Families and friends said Mr. Tate was devoted to his family and a deeply religious person who was active in Vineyard Church in Perrysburg.

    Jeff Tate said his brother's number one priorities were his wife and children. "His family came first in his life. Being a father and being a husband. His whole life revolved around that," he said.

    "He was just a tremendous family guy," said Bill Herzog, co-pastor of Vineyard Church. "He was a leader, a very solid guy who has a deep religious background. He cared so much for his wife and family."

    He leaves behind his wife, Laura; two sons, ages 15 and 19, and a 10-year-old daughter. He grew up in East Toledo and Oregon, where he attended Clay High School. His parents, who survive, live in Cambridge, Ohio. His father, a minister, at one time was pastor of a church in East Toledo. Jeremy Tate was the third oldest of the couple's five children.

    The Tates attended Clay High School and married shortly after their graduation in1989.

    Pastor Herzog said that Jeremy Tate was a role model to young people in his church on how a marriage should work.

    After high school, Mr. Tate attended Owens Community College in Perrysburg Township. His brother said he joined Conforming Matrix Corp. roughly 14 years ago.

    "I think he enjoyed the work he did there," Jeff Tate said.

    Pastor Herzog said Mr. Tate had recently took over leadership of the youth program at the 250-member church, and in fact had taken 11 junior high age boys and girls to Columbus for a youth conference.

    He said they returned late Saturday and Mr. Tate spoke to the congregation about the experience during services last Sunday.

    "To see him on Sunday and two days later he is gone," the pastor said.

    The Tate's involvement in the church also included going with Mr. Herzog and his wife, Barb, the church's co-pastor, on missionary work to impoverished areas in Mexico.

    Pastor Herzog said Mr. Tate had taken the trip at least three times and was the leader of the church team on two of the excursions. He said that Mr. Tate, as a large, strong person, was instrumental in completing construction projections.

    "He did all the heavy lifting on the project," he said. "They loved having him. He was a leader who would take charge and he wasn't afraid of hard work."

    Mr. Brahier was a computer-aided design specialist for the company and motocross enthusiast. His father and stepmother, Richard and Anita Brahier, live in Springfield Township.

    "Nate was a great kid and son who loved everybody and he lived his life to the fullest," his mother, Pat Moon, said in a statement released by Herman-Kinn-Karlovetz Funeral Home & Cremation Services of Fremont.

    A resident of Fremont, Ohio, he graduated from Fremont Ross High School, said Jason Kinn of the funeral home.

    Jeff Tate said he believed Mr. Brahier, who was single, joined Conforming Matrix Corp. in December.

    Staff writer David Patch contributed to this report.

    Contact Mark Reiter at: or 419-724-6199.