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Pilot error blamed for fatal plane crash in Monroe park

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Officials photograph wreckage of the Piper Malibu Mirage that crashed March 29, 2011, in Munson Park in Monroe. Federal safety regulators say the pilot was flying too close to the ground.

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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 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, which was posted Nov. 26 on the safety board’s Web site.

The plane crashed in the park less than a mile away from the runway and caught fire.

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 Toledo firm, Conforming Matrix Corp.

The probable-cause report said the landing gear and flaps on the Piper Mirage were retracted.

The safety board also stated that undetermined levels of 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 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 filed a wrongful death lawsuit in October, 2011, 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 set to begin Feb. 12.

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