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NTSB report: Mechanical problem discovered in plane that crashed at Merrill Field

Emergency crews respond to the scene of a plane crash at Merrill Field on Wednesday, July 2, 2014. Marc Lester / Alaska Dispatch News

The National Transportation Safety Board released a preliminary report for the July 2 crash of a Piper PA-12 at Merrill Field. The accident, which resulted in the death of 61-year-old pilot and sole occupant Charles Hancock, occurred shortly after takeoff at 8:20 a.m. A post-crash examination of the aircraft's elevator control cables showed they were misrigged and "... attached to the incorrect (opposite) locations on the elevator control horn, resulting in a reversal of elevator control inputs."

According to the report, the airplane had been undergoing extensive maintenance for about five years and neither the airplane's co-owner nor others at the airport were aware of it having been flown before the accident flight.

A pilot who was standing on the ramp and witnessed the departure told the NTSB investigator that after the aircraft became airborne, "... its climb kept getting steeper and steeper and did not level off like he expected it would. He said that the airplane 'wasn't pitching quickly or violently but slowly' and 'as if the pilot had no ability to stop it.' The climb appeared so abnormal to the witness that he yelled to get the attention of another pilot on the ramp."

A second witness also on the ramp told the investigator that "the airplane climbed straight up then 'pivoted' to a nose-down position and descended straight to the ground."

An airframe and powerplant mechanic assisted with the examination of the airplane after it was removed from the crash site. The report states that examination revealed the manipulation of the ailerons and rudder resulted in correct directional movement of the rear control stick and each rudder pedal. However, after establishing elevator control cable continuity, the NTSB investigator determined that "manipulating the rear control stick aft (to command airplane nose-up) resulted in cable movement corresponding with a downward deflection of the elevator (which would result in airplane-nose-down flight)."

The mechanic assisting with the examination confirmed that the elevator control cables were misrigged.

A final probable cause report on the accident will likely not be released until early 2015.

Contact Colleen Mondor at colleen@alaskadispatch.com.