New details emerge in fatal plane crash on Greenfield-Leyden line

Investigators collect debris and continue investigating a plane crash in the area of Oak Hill Road in Leyden on Jan. 15. The National Transportation Safety Board has released its preliminary report on the crash.

Investigators collect debris and continue investigating a plane crash in the area of Oak Hill Road in Leyden on Jan. 15. The National Transportation Safety Board has released its preliminary report on the crash. STAFF FILE PHOTO/CHRIS LARABEE

Investigators collect debris and continue investigating a plane crash in the area of Oak Hill Road in Leyden on Jan. 15. The National Transportation Safety Board has released its preliminary report on the crash.

Investigators collect debris and continue investigating a plane crash in the area of Oak Hill Road in Leyden on Jan. 15. The National Transportation Safety Board has released its preliminary report on the crash. STAFF FILE PHOTO/CHRIS LARABEE

By BELLA LEVAVI

Staff Writer

Published: 01-26-2024 6:35 PM

Modified: 02-01-2024 12:21 PM


LEYDEN — The National Transportation Safety Board has released its preliminary report on the Jan. 14 fatal plane crash in the Leyden Wildlife Management Area, detailing eyewitness accounts as well as the plane’s flight path and conditions.

Fly Lugu flight school founder Fredrika Ballard, 53, of Southwick, William Hampton, 68, of Indian Orchard, and Chad Davidson, 29, of Woodstock, Connecticut were killed when the Beechcraft Baron B55 crashed in the woods minutes after takeoff from Westfield-Barnes Regional Airport.

“After departure, the airplane made a 180-degree left turn toward the north-northeast,” the report reads. “The airplane then climbed to about 3,000 to 3,300 ft mean sea level (msl) and made four alternating 360-degree turns while continuing to fly northbound. After the fourth 360-degree turn, the airplane began to climb, reaching an altitude of about 4,000 ft msl. The airplane then entered a rapid descent until data ended at 11:25.”

The report states that the plane was not receiving any air traffic control services during the flight and there were no recorded radio communications.

There was no fire resulting from the crash, the report states. All major components of the plane were found at the crash site.

“The disposition of the wreckage was consistent with the airplane landing in a relatively flat position with little forward movement,” the report continues. “Both wings, along with their respective engines and propeller systems, remained attached to the fuselage.”

The wreckage was brought to a secure location for investigation. The victims’ bodies were removed from the wreckage by firefighters and transported to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.

Ice was found on the leading edge of both wings and horizontal stabilizers, both engine nacelles, the leading edge of the rudder, the front face of one of the left engine’s propeller blades, and on the antenna located on the vertical stabilizer, according to the report.

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The report states that at the time of the crash, two Airman Meteorological Information warnings were issued about moderate icing conditions as well as a Significant Meteorological Information warning about occasional severe turbulence between 3,000 and 16,000 feet due to strong low-level winds.

Witnesses as close as three-quarters of a mile away described the airplane as having “‘corkscrewed’ straight down” before it went out of view. Others described the sound of the crash as loud and clunky.

One witness reported hearing the airplane’s engine RPMs “fluctuate drastically,” the report states.

The Class 3 investigation is being led by Leah Read. Class 3 investigations involve seeking the safety issues that reveal the underlying causes of the crash. Findings from the investigations can be used to make recommendations to industry stakeholders.

A spokesperson for the National Transportation Safety board previously said a preliminary report is released within 30 days of a crash. A full report, which will include a probable cause as well as any other contributing factors, is expected within 12 to 24 months.