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National Transportation Safety Board releases results of investigation into plane crash

 This February 2006 photo from the scene of the small-plane crash at Stafford Regional Airport shows tulips in the crook of a tree scarred by fire with a cross in the background.
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Date published: 2/28/2007

NTSB Report: Click here for the full report.

BY BILL FREEHLING

Last year's fatal plane crash in Stafford County was caused by "the pilot's failure" during landing, the National Transportation Safety Board has determined.

On Monday, the NTSB published the results of its yearlong investigation into the Feb. 22, 2006, crash at Stafford Regional Airport.

The crash killed Graham Green III, Michael Gus Pappas, Albert "Buck" Jacoby and Rick Potter--all prominent community leaders.

The NTSB report states there was "no evidence of mechanical malfunction" in Potter's Columbia 400 aircraft. It determines that the pilot's failure "to execute the published missed approach" was the probable cause of the crash, and it states that overcast weather that night was a factor.

NTSB spokesman Terry Williams said the organization does not use the term "pilot error" in its reports. He said the organization instead tries to keep the language more technical.

The report states that investigators were unable to determine who was flying the plane. Potter owned it and was on the radio with the Federal Aviation Administration that night, but Jacoby also was an instrument-rated pilot.

The widows of Pappas and Green have each filed $10 million lawsuits against the estate of Rick Potter. Their suits claim that Potter was indeed the pilot and flew negligently that night.

Richmond attorney Albert M. Orgain IV, who is representing Potter's widow in the lawsuits, does not concede that Potter was the pilot in the court papers he's filed.

In a phone interview yesterday, Orgain noted that the NTSB does not say what led the pilot to fail to execute a missed approach at Stafford Regional Airport. He also said that the NTSB's findings on probable cause would not be admissible in court. He said the NTSB does not make decisions on liability.

The NTSB report notes that the appropriate missed approach procedure was to first climb to 600 feet. It states that the pilot did perform a missed approach at Shannon Airport in Spotsylvania County before heading to Stafford Regional, which is better equipped for an instrument landing.

The suits filed by Pappas and Green also state that the pilot should have done a missed approach at Stafford Regional. Reston attorney Robert T. Hall, who is one of the lawyers representing the plaintiffs, said in an e-mail that the NTSB report contains mostly just a general description of the crash.

The four men were flying back from Winston-Salem, N.C., that night. They had flown down that afternoon to attend a Wake Forest University basketball game.

Bill Freehling: 540/374-5424
Email: bfreehling@freelancestar.com