Feds probe cause of fatal Dade County plane crash

Feds probe cause of fatal Dade County plane crash

May 30th, 2012 by Steve Hardy in News

An ultralight glider has crashed just off of Burkhalter Gap Road in Dade County, killing the pilot.

Photo by WRCB-TV Channel 3 /Times Free Press.

Charles Matthews had flown solo since he was 14 and, at 22, he was the youngest pilot ever at the Virgin Islands Seaplane Shuttle, his father-in-law said.

On Tuesday, Dan Crates said he did not have any specific information about the crash that killed his son-in-law.

Matthews was president of Crates Leather Co., a Chattanooga business that makes saddles and other equestrian equipment.

"He was an experienced pilot," said one employee at Lookout Mountain Flight Park, where Matthews took off Saturday for the last time.

The same employee, who asked not to be named, added that Federal Aviation Administration investigators said there didn't seem to be anything wrong with the controls or instruments in Matthews' ultralight Dragonfly aircraft.

Officials found the pilot and his crashed plane about 4 p.m. Saturday off Burkhalter Gap Road in Dade County, Sheriff Patrick Cannon said. Doctors declared Matthews dead at the scene.

The sheriff's office has handed the investigation over to the FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board, and it's still unclear what caused Matthews' crash.

"It could be any number of causes," NTSB spokesman Keith Holloway said. "It's too early to determine what caused the accident."

When asked if ultralight crashes were more frequently caused by operator error, equipment malfunction or other factors, Holloway would say only that investigators must examine all variables and approach each case without bias.

He noted that fatal aircraft accident investigations generally take 12 to 18 months.

Adding to the confusion, Cannon said investigators believe Matthews launched and reached the apex of his flight without incident and the accident occurred while he was descending to land.

Attempts to reach the FAA for comment were unsuccessful.

Holloway identified Matthews' plane as a Moyes Dragonfly Experimental Aircraft.

Dragonflies are ultralight crafts, measuring 19 feet 6 inches long and weighing about 330 pounds, according to Australian manufacturing company LiteFlite. They have a cruising speed around 45 mph and are commonly used to launch hang gliders.

Contact staff writer Steve Hardy at 423-757-6476 or shardy@timesfreepress.com.