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Mon, Feb 12, 2007

NTSB Says No Change In Findings On 1967 Piedmont Airlines Midair

Cessna Pilot Remains At Fault In Crash That Killed 82

Even with the NTSB declining to overturn its findings in a 1967 midair crash of a Piedmont Boeing 727 and a Cessna 310 near Hendersonville, NC, amateur historian Paul Houle, who has studied the crash for years, isn't giving up.

Houle will lobby Congress to keep the case alive, reports the Charlotte Observer, asserting the NTSB didn't conduct a new investigation -- instead only reviewing its old notes. That, he claims, is only "reigniting controversy" over the crash.

As ANN reported, Houle believes that the NTSB wrongly determined the Cessna pilots were at fault. Houle, who is not connected to any of the victims, lobbied the NTSB to reopen the case in 2005, which it agreed to do last year.

But in a February 2 letter to Houle, the NTSB said the agency is standing by its original report.

Following a 14-month investigation, the NTSB originally ruled the accident was likely caused by the C310's pilot. The NTSB ruled that he had deviated from his IFR flight plan and into the path of the speeding jet.

However, Houle found evidence that it was the 727 that strayed from its cleared route - and that the flight crew was distracted by an ashtray fire on the flight deck seconds before impact.

Houle also discovered the NTSB's lead investigator on the case was the brother of a Piedmont vice president -- both of whom have since passed away.

Despite the NTSB's general policy of accepting requests to reopen cases only from "parties to the investigation or hearing" or those with a "direct interest," the board's acting chairman, Mark V. Rosenker, agreed to Houle's request.

According to the NTSB, the accident occurred because the Cessna flew off course and into the Piedmont jet's path.

But Houle contends the Cessna pilot was confused, and told air traffic controllers where he was going. Houle believes the pilot should have been corrected.

The NTSB said it couldn't determine whether the Cessna pilot had told the control tower of his incorrect heading because the tape was garbled. It also deemed the fire inconsequential, because the crew was laughing about it.

Additionally, the NTSB said that numerous NTSB officials worked on the report, and that it found no evidence that the family relationship impacted the case.

US Airways, which bought Piedmont, lobbied the NTSB not to reopen the case.

FMI: Read NTSB's Original Probable Cause Report

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