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High Speed Cited in Plane Collision

March 03, 2000|MARTHA L. WILLMAN

An experimental airplane was flying at nearly 250 mph when it collided with another plane over a golf course last month, and the high speed could have contributed to the collision that killed four people, the chief accident investigator said Thursday.

The aircraft, a Questair Venture, collided with a Bellanca Scout circling at about 98 mph, said George Petterson of the National Transportation Safety Board. Analysis, however, has not been completed to determine who was at fault in the Feb. 7 collision, he said.

The Questair was being flown by Charles D. Oliver, 53, of Glendora, a veteran professional pilot of large executive aircraft. Oliver was flying with a co-pilot in the small red plane he had recently purchased, headed for a landing at Van Nuys Airport.

The two pilots of the Bellanca were looking for possible leaks in a pipeline at a construction site adjacent to the golf course. They had been circling for several minutes in the direct line of the landing path and had been alerted three times about other aircraft in the vicinity prior to the collision, Petterson said.

Oliver had followed normal procedures in preparation for a landing and was given a transponder code so tower controllers could track both airplanes on radar, Petterson said. But the crash occurred after only one blip identifying the Questair had flashed on the radar screen, too late for controllers to issue an air traffic warning, Petterson said.

"The facts and conditions are that [Oliver] was going quite fast. That's for sure," Petterson said. "It could be a contributing factor." But Petterson said various planes travel at different speeds and there is no speed limit on aircraft.

Dick Knapinski, spokesman for the Experimental Aircraft Assn., called the Questair "a very high performance aircraft, known as one of the fastest kit-built." He said the aircraft is designed to fly at a cruising speed of 295 mph and has a maximum cruising speed of 322 mph.

"They're a hot aircraft. It was built to go fast, to get from point A to point B in a hurry," Knapinski said.

About 20,000 aircraft--15% of the nation's single-engine general aviation fleet--are classified as experimental by the Federal Aviation Administration. Experimental aircraft generally are built by hobbyists, rather than by an aircraft manufacturer, and often are faster, much like race cars, than other pleasure aircraft, Knapinski said.

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