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Sun, Jan 08, 2006

Thirty Feet Short Of Safety

Doctor Dies In Tragic, Unsuccessful, Emergency Landing

Investigators are picking over the remains of Dr. Jay S. Richards's Mooney 231, N27ER, which crashed Thursday just 30 feet from the taxiway that could have been his deliverance. The 51-year-old anesthesiologist from Portland, Oregon died instantly when his plane plunged into an orchard of filbert trees. Richards made a mayday call that his plane was losing power, moments after being cleared to land at Hillsboro Airport. He had departed Hillsboro earlier that day.

While the investigation has a long way to go to determine the facts in the case, some things can be inferred from the condition of the wreckage. The plane apparently crashed on its nose and right wing with little forward motion, suggesting a stall; and the plane was in sight of a private airpark in North Plains, Oregon.

The airpark, Sunset Airstrip (1OR3), lies just inside the Hillsboro Class D airspace, and is best known in the enthusiast community as the home of Dick Van Grunsven and the original birthplace of Van's Aircraft. Sunset features a 200-foot-wide and 3,000-foot-long turf runway, and an intersecting taxiway. It is possible that Richards may have stalled trying to stretch a glide to the taxiway. While the runway was around a thousand feet from his point of impact, the taxiway was heartbreakingly close.

The FAA aviation safety inspector on the scene, Jack M. Swensen, told reporters that the plane most likely spun; the plane left sheared-off tree limbs as evidence of its trajectory. The right wing, nose, and forward cockpit of the compact Mooney were badly crushed; the left wing and tail were not so severely damaged. The landing gear was down, and the position of the flaps is unknown.

Swensen was expected to turn over the investigation to NTSB investigators, as is routine.

The severe deceleration forces in the crash would not have been survivable. There was no fire, and first responders concluded that Richards was killed instantly.

Richards had a current medical and was an instrument-rated private pilot.

"He will be missed in many ways," Dr. Jeffrey Johnson said. Johnson is a surgeon who also flies a Mooney and who worked with Richards at Providence St. Vincent Hospital.

Johnson remembered Richards, with whom he'd flown, as an enthusiastic, safe pilot. "He had a passion for flying," Johnson told the Portland Oregonian newspaper. "He was a very careful, conscientious pilot, who was very experienced and very meticulous."

The investigation will continue. The FAA has an initial report on the FMI link already, and NTSB will follow with a preliminary report, which will contain more factual information, later. This will be followed by a factual report, usually in a matter of months. It may be a year or more before the actual Board has met and voted on a statement of probable cause.



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