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Stall likely cause in deadly Merrill Field plane crash

Colleen Mondor

Editor's note: This article was updated Sunday, Sept. 1, at 11:30 a.m. AKST. The story initially reported that Lilly's descent "continued" on runway 25. The error was made in editing and the story updated to reflect the mistake and correction.

The National Transportation and Safety Board (NTSB) on Friday released its preliminary report on the Anchorage plane crash that killed pilot Rob Lilly and his girlfriend, Jessi Nelsen, on Aug. 24. The report was filed after NTSB investigators reviewed radio transmissions recorded between Lilly and Merrill Field Air Traffic Control (ATC).

Lilly was flying his Cessna 150 and cleared to land on the 4,000-foot-long runway 25, following a Cessna 172, also on final approach. After the C172 landed it was instructed by ATC to exit the runway when able as there was additional landing traffic. Shortly after this communication, Lilly was instructed to go-around but did not respond. He was subsequently instructed twice more to go-around -- and again did not respond. The aircraft did stop descending however and continued to fly over runway 25.

Multiple witnesses reported to the NTSB that the Cessna 150 flew down the runway at about 100 feet in a nose high attitude. As it continued over the departure end of the runway, the engine was heard to quit and the plane next took a steep left turn back to the airport. In that turn the C150 rolled to the left, descended and then crashed into the grassy terrain about 400 weet west of the runway, where it came to rest in a nose low position.

Investigators recovered the aircraft's engine and all major structural components, which will be tested for any anomalies.

According to family members, the 31-year-old Lilly had recently obtained his commercial pilot’s license. This license, which requires 250 total hours of flight time meeting a variety of specific standards and conditions, is the second license a pilot can obtain following private pilot. Lilly had reportedly just been hired in a professional capacity at a commercial operator.

The preliminary report indicates the crash occurred due to a low altitude “departure stall.” Investigators aren't yet sure whether mechanical difficulties played a role.

Contact Colleen Mondor at colleen(at)alaskadispatch.com