By Sally Voth
The National Transportation Safety Board investigation into an aviation collision that killed an Edinburg man on New Year's Eve 2010 is nearing its completion.
Flight instructor Jason Long, 32, of Edinburg, and his 19-year-old passenger, Jacob Houston Kiser, 19, from Grottoes, were killed when the Cessna Long was flying collided with an AirCare 5 helicopter near Shenandoah Valley Regional Airport in Weyers Cave.
Neither the helicopter pilot nor two medical flight crew members were injured in the incident, according to a factual narrative from the NTSB. Only minor damage was done to the helicopter.
The narrative states that all three people on the helicopter gave aviation investigators consistent statements. The helicopter had left the University of Virginia Medical Center in Charlottesville after dropping off a patient, and was about a half-mile from the Weyers Cave airport at the time of the collision.
"The accident airplane was operating in the airport traffic area, but not in the established traffic pattern," the narrative states.
A radar study showed that the Cessna "completed a right downwind departure, contrary to the established left traffic pattern," it states.
It was last seen on radar about 1.2 miles north of the airport heading back to the airport from the west side of the runway, according to the narrative.
The Cessna's owner told investigators he and Long had specifically discussed how to approach the airport, and the final approach Long took to the runway was "not characteristic."
"'It's totally uncharacteristic of [him],'" the narrative quotes the owner as saying. "'I've racked my brain trying to think why he was there.'"
All of the interviewed pilots told the NTSB air traffic at the airport was "unusually busy," on the day of the fatal collision, and that the radio frequency was crowded.
After feeling "a bump and a shudder," one of the flight nurses looked out of the aircraft and "saw a white rectangle under the helicopter for 'less than a millisecond,'" it states.
The helicopter's traffic collision avoidance device didn't alert to Long's plane, although two other airplanes were displayed on it, according to the report.
"During the descent, about 500 feet above ground level, the [helicopter] pilot 'saw about 2 feet of white wing right outside,'" the report states. "He 'pulled power' and then felt the contact."
Witnesses described seeing the helicopter overtake the plane from the rear and then "barely touch" it, causing a wing to shear off and the rest of the plane to nosedive, according to NTSB documents.
Long, an accomplished runner for Central High School, had logged 2,300 hours of flight experience at the time his most recent Federal Aviation Administration medical certificate was issued six months prior to the crash, according to NTSB documents. Kiser had seven hours of flight experience according to a pilot logbook.
Once the two aircraft were a mile apart, the airplane would have looked less than .2 inches in size if seen through the helicopter's windscreen, according to the factual narrative. As the distance between them decreased from 1,000 feet, the plane would have been below the horizon in relation to the helicopter.
And, in the seconds just before the crash, the helicopter would've been blocked from the plane pilot's view by the plane's wing, or would've been above and behind the plane, according to the narrative.
The factual narrative is one of the final steps in an investigation, NTSB spokesman Eric Weiss said Friday.
"The next step is a probable cause," he said. "That should come out soon."
Contact staff writer Sally Voth at 540-465-5137 ext. 164