NORTHUMBERLAND -- The Cessna airplane that crashed Saturday, killing both occupants, had picked up a large advertising banner seconds before it veered strangely off course, clipped a tree and nose-dived to the ground about 20 feet in front of a house near the runway, officials said Sunday.
Investigators are continuing the probe into what caused the crash that killed pilot Ciprian M. Ivascu, 33, of Newburgh, Orange County, and passenger Jon C. Stomski, 61, of Milton.
Both men were pronounced dead on the scene by Saratoga County Coroner Susan Hayes-Masa.
The Poughkeepsie Journal reported Sunday that Ivascu was a skydiving instructor and a member of the U.S. Parachute Team, according to the paper’s archives.
The Cessna 182F light plane, owned by Saratoga Skydiving Adventures, took off from Heber Airpark, where the skydiving business leases space, and headed southwest, then looped back around in the air to pick up the banner for the business.
The banner hooked to the plane’s tail and it appeared to be a successful pickup, but then the plane veered to the left, low and off-course. Witnesses reported seeing the plane’s right wing snag the tree, and the banner was found on the other side of the tree away from the wreckage.
Mario Hoyos, a Florida man who is training in skydiving at Saratoga Skydiving Adventures, witnessed the plane pick up the banner and didn’t see what happened after, but he said it seemed the plane’s right wing clipped the tree.
“Somehow, maybe the plane stalled and it brought him too low,” Hoyos said Sunday at scene of the crash.
An aerodynamic stall in a plane is something pilots practice.
The airflow over the top of the wings may have been disrupted, which may have caused an accelerated high speed stall, which could cause the plane to spin and fall in altitude.
He said the plane was full of fuel, possibly three hours worth.
In aerial advertising, planes don’t take off with banners. The banner is attached to a cable suspended by a rig on the ground consisting of two vertical poles parallel to the runway. The pilot takes off, loops around, then dives low to snag the cable on a hook on the tail.
Hoyos said the banner takes up about a third of the runway.
The plane crashed in Nancy Rouse’s front yard about 20 feet from her porch, she said Sunday at the crash scene.
Her son lives around the corner, and she walks to and from his house through a field in her backyard. The family has owned property there since the 1960s.
She was walking home when she saw the plane clip the tree and spiral down.
“I was walking in the back field and I saw it hit the tree and nose dive to the ground,” Rouse said. “I just heard the regular noise from a plane. They’re always going over my house. I ran to the back door to call 911.”
There was no smoldering, fire or smoke and no smell she could detect.
“It was just awful,” she said.
She said the planes often fly low over her house.
“Somebody should control it, but I don’t know who,” she said.
Her house is located across from a runway, which is surrounded by a wooden fence.
She said her grandchildren and others often play under the trees and in her front yard where the wreckage remained until early Sunday evening.
“Twenty more feet and it would have gone right through the house,” her son, Rodney Rouse, said.
The Saratoga County Sheriff’s Office and Federal Aviation Administration collected evidence and secured the scene ahead of the arrival of National Transportation Safety Board investigator Brian Rayner, who traveled from Washington to Northumberland on Sunday.
Rayner said he was impressed with the local agencies, which also included Gansevoort, Wilton and South Glens Falls volunteer firefighters, as well as Wilton EMS, Moreau EMS and Lifenet.
He said witness accounts were “very consistent” and indicated the plane successfully captured the banner and the engine sounded smooth to most people, but then the plane began a slight turn to the left.
“It wasn’t climbing at the rate they were accustomed to,” Rayner said.
Rayner said only the five-member board can release the cause, and that typically takes about a year after an accident.
During the day on Sunday, authorities lifted up the plane and turned it right side up after tying it to a front loader.
Then they dug through the site and unearthed the propeller from several inches of ground.
Later, the bucket loader towed the plane away.
“The airplane is based here. The owner is here, and it’s my hope to complete the examination (of the plane) here and release it back to the owner,” Rayner said.
Rayner is assembling a team that will likely consist of two experts from Textron Aviation, Cessna’s parent company, and possibly the engine manufacturer. If needed, the NTSB can specially ship the engine to an expert at the manufacturer to weigh in on the case.
Saratoga Skydiving Adventures has had to get through other difficult circumstances in the past.
In 2011, a skydiver died on a jump when he reportedly intentionally unfastened his parachute after leaving a suicide note.
There have been a few other nonfatal accidents in recent years, one caused by a gust of wind that took a skydiver off course and another involving a skydiving student who reportedly didn’t flare to reduce speed at the proper altitude.