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NTSB: Witness saw Louisiana plane level out before crash

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A witness said a plane that crashed in south Louisiana had leveled out its wings before it hit trees and transmission lines and crashed in a fiery heap, according to a preliminary investigation issued Tuesday by federal investigators.

The report by the National Transportation Safety Board did not give a cause for the Dec. 28 plane crash that killed five people on their way to the Peach Bowl in Atlanta. Investigators have repeatedly said it will take about a year for that determination to be made. But the report detailed the last minute of the eight-passenger aircraft as it took off from an airfield in Lafayette and crashed about a minute later.

“According to multiple witnesses on the ground, they first heard an airplane flying overhead, at a low altitude," the report said. "Several witnesses stated that it sounded as if both engines were at a high rpm. Multiple witnesses observed the airplane appear out of the low cloud bank in a steep, left-bank turn. One witness stated that the airplane rolled wings level just before it struck the trees and transmission lines."

The six people aboard the eight-passenger aircraft were flying to Atlanta to watch the college football game between Louisiana State University and Oklahoma.

Ian E. Biggs, 51, the plane's pilot; and passengers Robert Vaughn Crisp II, 59; Carley McCord, 30, Michael Walker Vincent, 15, and his mother, Gretchen Vincent, 51 were all killed in the crash. The sixth person on the plane — Stephen Wade Berzas, 37 — was taken to the hospital with burns on 75% of his body.

McCord was a well-known sports reporter and the daughter-in-law of the LSU offensive coordinator. The other people on the plane all had connections with a Lafayette-based technology firm called Global Data Systems.

Two postal workers received minor injuries from flying glass inside a post office near where the crash occurred, the report said. Another person outside the post office was also seriously injured. The report said the plane struck her parked car, sending it rolling several times before it came to rest upside down. Then a fire “consumed the car."

Federal investigators have been combing through videos submitted by people who saw the crash and the aftermath. They have also talked to witnesses who saw or heard the plane come down. The engine will be sent back to the manufacturer for further investigation.

According to the preliminary report, the plane was climbing and heading to the right in its assigned heading. Then, about ten seconds after takeoff, it leveled off and started into a left-hand turn as it continued to climb. Eventually it reached an altitude of 925 feet (282 meters) and started to descend while going into a steeper turn.

At about 700 feet (213 meters), the air traffic controller issued a low altitude alert but the pilot did not respond, the report said. The plane did not send any emergency transmissions or alerts.

When the plane came down, it hit a road and then the parking lot of a post office before finally crashing into a field. Investigators said the path of the wreckage extended for 789 feet (240 meters).

“The wreckage path included fragmented and burned pieces of the airplane and tree debris,” the report said. “The right wing, the outboard left wing, both engines, both elevator controls, the rudder, the instrument panel, and forward cabin separated from the main fuselage and pieces were located in the debris field.”

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Follow Santana on Twitter @ruskygal.

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