NTSB releases final report on fatal Young Eagles crash

The National Transportation Safety Board has determined that the pilot’s failure to maintain airspeed was the probable cause of the crash of a Piper Cherokee that was taking part in an EAA Young Eagles rally in October 2005.

Pilot David Hokanson, Kandyce Cowart, 14, and Brittany Boatright, 15, were killed shortly after takeoff from Snohomish County Airport/Paine Field (PAE) in Everett, Wash. The girls were freshmen at Seattle’s Aviation High School and were among 80 students taking part in the Young Eagles event. Hokanson, who had logged approximately 313 hours, was one of the volunteer pilots.

The plan was for the students and pilots to launch from King County International Airport/Boeing Field (BFI) and fly to Paine Field some 20 miles away. The pilots were to land at Paine Field to allow students to switch seats so that they each got a chance to ride up front.

According to the NTSB report, video cameras at the airport show the right wing of Hokanson’s Cherokee rising as it crosses the threshold of the 3,000- x 75-foot runway 16L. The airplane touched down approximately 200 feet down the runway and well to the left of the centerline. A black skid mark was found on the left side of the runway. Another skid mark parallel to and 10 feet to the left of the first mark started 20 feet later in the grass. A third skid mark was found between the first two. On the taxiway perpendicular to the runway there was a 36-inch long silver score mark consistent with damage found to the aircraft’s tailskid. The plane hit an airport sign then lifted off again.

Hokanson then radioed the control tower stating, “Something happened there, I don’t know, not sure what, it doesn’t feel right. Can you see my wheels?”

The tower advised him that his wheels appeared normal. Hokanson reported that he was at full power and a high angle of attack but the aircraft would not climb. The tower controller asked if his flaps were up. Hokanson said they were.

Witnesses on the ground reported that the aircraft’s nose was pitching up and down, but the Piper never climbed higher than 100 to 150 feet.

Three witnesses working near the crash site reported hearing the sound of breaking treetops. One of these witnesses said he saw the airplane’s right wing hit the trees. The airplane spun to the ground and burst into flames.

The post-crash investigation did not uncover any pre-crash mechanical problems with the aircraft. It was noted that the pilot landed with an approximately five-knot tailwind.

The NTSB determined contributing factors in the crash were the pilot’s loss of aircraft control during his initial landing approach and his immediate departure from the runway after touching down, his aborted landing attempt and subsequent impact with an airport sign and the trees.

Steve Buss, executive director of the Experimental Aircraft Association’s Young Eagles program, noted the crash was the first fatality in an officially sanctioned Young Eagles event.

The Young Eagles program was created in 1992 as a means of introducing children to aviation.

EAA officials note that there have been more than 1.2 million incident-free flights since the program was created.

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