Pre-deadly flip, plane’s final minutes a tragedy of timing

ORLANDO, Fla. — A day after a small plane flipped over during a severe storm at the Orlando Executive Airport, many unknowns remain.


Who were the two people inside the plane, one of whom died and the other hospitalized? What communication did they have with air traffic control as the weather worsened? When did they learn they were in trouble?

As the National Traffic Safety Board continued their investigation, some answers became clearer.

Sources connected to their airport said only one twin-engine Diamond DA42 aircraft flew out of it, belonging to a flight training school. GPS data transmitted from the plane and collected by ADS-Bexchange.com showed it taxiing from its hangar at 4:42 p.m.

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At the time, normal afternoon thunderstorms were developing to the airport’s south, with MCO placed in a high wind warning.

Around 4:48, the plane reached the end of the runway, just as the severe storm began bubbling up around the airport. Conditions quickly worsened as wind gusts reached as high as 62 miles per hour, uprooting at least one fully grown tree.

The pilot stayed put at the end of the runway, data showed, with the plane’s final transmission emitting at 4:57.

READ: Plane crash at Orlando Executive Airport that killed 1, injured another under investigation

Retired military and airline pilot Rich Owen said it was the first time in his 50-year career that he’d heard of someone dying in a ground-based incident. Despite the tragic ending, he praised the decision-making of the pilot.

“I think the pilot was making the right decision to hold on the ground because the weather certainly was not appropriate for safe takeoff,” Owen said.

Owen said as winds reached those high speeds, the pilot effectively became stuck. Taking off was risky, though it has been done before by pilots with extremely light aircraft from a still position.

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Owen said the appropriate maneuver would be to remain in place and point the airplane into the wind, using flight controls to keep it locked into the wind’s direction, or point it away from the wind.

He said a pilot should do everything in their power to keep the plane from turning sideways, where it had a high probability of flipping over.

“You’re close to flying speed when you’re looking at 60 to 70 mile an hour winds,” he said.

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An airport official said the runway would have been shut down due to weather around 5:10, meaning each pilot had to make their own judgement call with the tower’s help before then.

Sources told WFTV four airplanes sustained damage during the storm, including the one that flipped.

Neither airport leaders, GOAA authorities nor representatives with the flight training school responded to messages left Friday.

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