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Mysteries remain in fatal Mount Si plane crash
Questions continue to surround the plane crash that awoke North Bend residents early Wednesday, Feb. 15.
The plane, a Cessna 172 with one pilot and two passengers, was destroyed when it crashed into Little Si, killing all three aboard.
The King County Medical Examiner did not release the victims' names until Friday afternoon. The victims are Robert Hill, a 30 year-old male, Seth Dawson, a 31 year-old male, and Elizabeth Redling, a 29 year-old female.
What they were doing in the plane, where they came from, where they was headed, and why they were flying so near Little Si are all still unclear, according to National Transportation Safety Board Regional Chief Jeff Rich. No flight plan was filed, but that's not unusual in night flights with reasonably clear weather,
"What we know is it collided with mountainous terrain," he said, and the investigation, conducted by NTSB investigator Wayne Pollack, will attempt to answer the other questions.
The crash occurred after 1:30 a.m., estimated King County Sheriff spokesperson Cindi West, whose department took a couple of reports of a loud noise in the area at 1:55 a.m.
One caller's account suggested the plane's engine stopped.
"There was what he described as a pop, then silence, then the crash," West said. No one reported any smoke or fire to indicate an explosion.
Two patrolmen who heard the impact were already en route to investigate the incident, West said, and when their radios picked up the sound of an emergency beacon, "that's when search and rescue got called." Guardian One, the county's rescue helicopter, was also in the air within the hour.
Several specialized teams of search-and-rescue volunteers, including four-by-four and technical climbing teams, were on-site and able to begin their searches by daylight.
"We had at one point, about 43 people on the mountain that day," West said.
Rescuers had to hike up about a mile and a half to where the helicopter had spotted some of the wreckage. Sheriff's Office personnel also closed the hiking trails on Little Si and Mount Si, and controlled traffic on Mount Si Road during the day. Both trails remain closed until further notice, but the road re-opened Wednesday afternoon, once the victims' bodies were recovered.
Deputies will also do traffic control and offer other assistance while NTSB investigators while are working at the crash site.
Pollack, who arrived in Washington from his Los Angeles office Thursday, said he'd need only one to two days at the crash site, starting Friday, Feb. 17.
"We'll spend the day on the mountainside looking at the evidence of the impact signatures," he said, continuing with a lengthy list of details that would be examined, such as broken tree branches, ground scarring, and the location and position of pieces of the plane.
For example, he said lowered wing flaps could indicate the plane was attempting an emergency landing, suggesting that there had been a malfunction, or possibly a tree collision.
The clues are put together, and working backward, the investigator tries to determine the plane's flight path.
"That will provide a key piece of information for us, because the aircraft's flight path is a key indication of what was happening in the cockpit," he explained. Other clues will be provided by reviewing the plane's maintenance logs, interviews with the pilot's flight school, examining the weather conditions at the time of the crash, an autopsy and toxicology report on the pilot, and, Pollack hoped, "the radar track from the FAA, if there is coverage in this area."
The radar track can provide "evidence of when and where the airplane took off, where it was headed… It's our best witness as to how the airplane got to the airplane crash site," Pollack said.
Should Pollack determine that he needs more time to review the wreckage, NTSB will take possession of the wreckage and move it to an indoor facility for further study. That happens rarely, Pollack said. Typically, the aircraft owner is responsible for removing the debris and storing it, sometimes for years, until all insurance company investigations and potential lawsuits are settled.
A typical NTSB investigation, which is required by U.S. law for all civil airplane crashes in the U.S. and some internationally, can take six to nine months before it is complete.