By JEFF MARTIN
ATLANTA - For many months, few facts have been known about what caused a plane to slam into a mountain in the north Georgia wilderness, killing the pilot and all three passengers on board.
The plane vanished in the Chattahoochee National Forest on May 30, 2011, while on a sightseeing flight during the 50th reunion of the Gilmer County High School Class of 1961. Searchers found the wreckage of the Beechcraft Bonanza two days later.
The National Transportation Safety Board has not yet determined what caused the crash, but investigators have developed several facts about the plane and its pilot.
On May 7, 2010, about one year before the crash, the plane's altimeter, which measures an airplane's altitude, had an issue that prevented it from working correctly, the NTSB said in a report last month. Investigators found no evidence that the discrepancy was ever fixed.
Testing done by the Federal Aviation Administration also found two drugs in the pilots system used to treat psychiatric disorders: Quetiapine and Bupropion.
The medications "can degrade mental performance and may result in impaired judgment," the report states.
NTSB spokesman Eric Weiss declined to elaborate on whether the drugs might have affected the pilot's ability to fly.
The NTSB's "factual report" is the latest step in the process, but not the final one, Weiss said. Investigators will analyze the facts before determining the probable cause of the crash.
The crash claimed the lives of pilot Phil Key of Pataskala, Ohio; Patricia Smith, of Ellijay; and a couple, Woody and Mattie Pierce of Ellijay. Key had attended Gilmer County High, and he donated the flight as a reunion door prize.
After Key died, friends in Ohio recalled how he had used his plane to fly children injured in the Chernobyl nuclear disaster from hospitals in the U.S. to Ohio so they could get medical treatments.
"I really considered him a good guy," said Wayne Zavotka, his former pastor at Hosanna Lutheran Church in Pataskala.
Key's younger brother, Chick Key of Mineral Bluff, Ga., said they were raised on a small farm in north Georgia.
Shortly after high school, Key joined the Air Force, and was stationed in Delaware; Prestwick, Scotland; and at NATO bases in France, according to his obituary. He stayed in Ohio after his assignment to a base in Columbus, Chick Key said. He later became a homebuilder in the Columbus area.