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Plane in fatal Long Beach crash was 653 pounds overweight, report says

The twin-engine craft also might have had water in its fuel tanks, according to the NTSB. Five died, including a descendant of one of Long Beach's founding families.

June 01, 2012|By Kim Christensen, Los Angeles Times
  • Firefighters inspect the wreckage of the aircraft that crashed last year at Long Beach Airport.
Firefighters inspect the wreckage of the aircraft that crashed last year… (Mark Boster / Los Angeles…)

A twin-engine plane that crashed shortly after takeoff in Long Beach last year, killing several prominent community members, was 653 pounds overweight and might have had water in its fuel tanks, according to National Transportation Safety Board records.

Real estate broker and cycling activist Mark Bixby, 44, a descendant of one of the city's founding families, was among the five killed in the fiery crash of the Beech Super King 200 as it took off from Long Beach Airport for a Utah ski trip in March 2011.

Also killed were real estate investor Thomas Dean, 50; his business partner, Jeffrey Berger, 49; Bruce Krall, 51; and the pilot, Kenneth Cruz, 43. Another passenger, Mike Jensen, then 51, survived.

The NTSB has not cited a cause for the crash and its investigation is continuing. However, the agency's "History of Flight" details the nine-second flight and the circumstances surrounding the accident.

According to the chronology and other records in the NTSB's online investigation file, the plane's wings wobbled as it started to climb. It then banked sharply to the left and nose-dived into the ground.

Several witnesses told investigators that they heard what sounded like engine trouble.

The maintenance director at an aviation company that serviced the plane, which was owned by Dean, told investigators he heard two "pops" shortly after the craft's wheels left the runway.

He said he believed the noises were related to the engines being extinguished by water in fuel tank sumps that should have been drained by the pilot before the flight.

"He didn't believe that the accident airplane's fuel tanks had been regularly drained since the owner bought it in the summer of 2009," according to the NTSB's interview of the maintenance director.

If not drained, a "slug" of water would flow to the plane's 14 fuel nozzles, shutting the engines down momentarily, followed by a surge of fuel that could be reignited automatically, the report states.

"The [maintenance director] believes the two pops he heard were attempts by the engine to relight the reintroduced fuel," the NTSB flight history stated.

The plane appeared to pull up somewhat just before the crash, records show, indicating that the engines might have restarted too late to keep it flying.

After the crash, investigators calculated the craft's weight from the amount of fuel, number of passengers and pieces of luggage it carried.

"The airplane was estimated to be approximately 653 pounds overweight at takeoff," the flight history said.

NTSB officials were not immediately available to comment on the report.

kim.christensen@latimes.com

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