The Frontstretch: Some Plane Crash Facts NASCAR Fails To Mention by Jeff Meyer -- Thursday May 15, 2008

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Some Plane Crash Facts NASCAR Fails To Mention

Voices From The Heartland · Jeff Meyer · Thursday May 15, 2008


When I saw a headline the other day stating that NASCAR officials had determined it was an electrical fire that brought down a NASCAR-operated Cessna 310 on July 10, 2007 in Sanford, FL; it struck me as extremely odd that they would be making such a statement.

For those who’ve forgotten, let me refresh your memory of the tragedy that occurred halfway through the year. Five people were fatally wounded, including NASCAR pilots Michael Klemm and Dr. Bruce Kennedy, husband of ISC President Lesa France Kennedy. The three other fatalities were residents of the houses that the plane struck when it went down.

Now, the reason it struck me as odd that NASCAR would issue such a statement is because — well, let’s face facts: NASCAR deals with race cars, not airplanes! Another reason my suspicion was aroused is because the same story stated that the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the governmental agency that thoroughly investigates such incidents, did not necessarily agree with NASCAR’s findings. So, I did a little investigating of my own, and after using several bottles of Visine that reading official government reports usually warrants, I found some interesting facts about that day, the airplane in question, and the people involved. Anyone who might be interested may examine the same reports that I did, feeling free to draw their own conclusions.

Here’s mine. In a nutshell, the day before the accident, there was a known electrical malfunction with the plane’s weather radar, one which emitted an odor into the cockpit that was described by the pilot as a “burnt electrical smell.” The pilot (not one of those in the accident) turned the unit off, disengaged the circuit breaker for the unit, and the smell went away. Upon landing safely and uneventfully, the pilot filled out a “maintenance write up” form, left the original form in the cockpit attached to the throttle controls, and informed maintenance personnel of the problem. The form read as follows: “Radar went blank during cruise flight. Recycled – no response… smell of electrical components burning (triple underlined). Turned off unit – pulled radar c.b. (circuit breaker) – smell went away. Radar INOP (inoperable)”

At this point I would like to point out that, as of this date, the NTSB reports do NOT state that the radar unit itself is what caused the on board fire that ultimately brought the plane down. The NTSB will not release its final report until sometime this summer; these reports simply reflect what is known about the prior history of the aircraft. So why, then, would NASCAR come right out and definitively say that it was NOT the radar unit in question that started the fire? In their summary that they gave to the NTSB (at the above link titled “Party Submission” (NASCAR) ) the sanctioning body directly blames the aircraft manufacturer for not using “slow burning wire” as required when the aircraft was built in 1977.

All that notwithstanding, I am not here to say one way or the other what, in fact, started the fire. I am simply here to bring forward some more facts about the people in question, and the events that led up to the flight in question.

As stated in NTSB reports, NASCAR Aviation Division policies that are found in their Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) manuals were not followed. First of all, the SOP states that, “The expeditious transportation provided by Company aircraft is to be directed to those activities which have a positive impact on corporate earnings.” The ill-fated flight on that day was for personal use.

NASCAR Aviation SOP also states that the captain or “pilot in command” must hold an ATP certificate with appropriate type ratings. For this particular flight, Dr. Kennedy was listed as the pilot in command. While Dr. Kennedy did have training in the Cessna 310, he did not hold an ATP (Airline Transport Pilot), and the company did not document any exceptions in the SOP for him. As per company directives, Dr. Kennedy was not to use the plane by himself.

Mike Klemm, (one of the fatalities) — someone who did hold an ATP, was also personally told by NASCAR Aviation Chief Pilot Van Brendle about the problem with the radar that had occurred the day before.

Mike Klemm, when told by Aircraft Technician Juan Solis that there was a discrepancy with the aircraft before the flight, was quoted as telling Solis: “I know about the radar, I don’t give a shit about that, I’m taking the airplane.”

Meanwhile, Van Brendle, when shown the original “Maintenance Write Up” form concerning the radar malfunction that was recovered from the crash scene, said that he would not have flown the aircraft with the discrepancy as shown.

Readers, I’m not here to assign blame or cause of this terrible tragedy. All I am merely doing is pointing out some things that NASCAR has left out when they go public and positively say that this or that did not occur. The facts that I have listed above only really scratch the surface: I strongly encourage you to go to the link above and check out the official documents yourself. It is truly enlightening.

There is a reason for everything NASCAR “officials” do, and this case is no exception. However, in this case, you have the chance to view the actual documents and know, as Paul Harvey puts it, The Rest of the Story!

Stay off the wall,

Jeff Meyer

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05/15/2008 07:25 AM

Thank you for such an enlightening article. Information we, the average fan (or in this case ex-fan), would never see.

To be very crass about things! NA$CAR has NEVER been honest and candid about ANYTHING that they do or say!

05/15/2008 07:52 AM

Thanks you for haveing the Balls to print this!
I’m glad not every journalist drinks the NASCAR Cool Aid.
I am sure you will be band from writing about and from attending NA$CAR events. So Thank you again for revealing the truth about NA$CAR’s Dirty little secret. After all according to Brian France, NA$CAR fan would be too stupid to read a report, right?!

05/15/2008 08:32 AM

Good article and typical NASCAR sugar coating. It will be interesting to see the NTSB’s final report. Of course, if they are different, NASCAR will dismiss the NTSB as being unimportant. After all, the France’s rule their own little world. If a family member hadn’t been involved, the NASCAR “report” would probably have been different. They would have crucified the employees. Look for those who told the truth to the NTSB to be fired soon.

05/15/2008 08:40 AM

Thanks for writing this! It will be interesting to follow the NTSB findings. I must say I’m not slightly surprised by the Na$car attitude. It will be interesting to see how they fare with a government regulatory agency.

05/15/2008 11:12 AM

Interesting article. Great job.

05/15/2008 12:13 PM


I’m posting this as someone who does have a pilot’s license (Single Engine Land, VFR). I’ve dealt with the FAA and I’ve read plenty of NTSB accident reports in Flying magazine and other publications. Based on this I can tell you right off the bat NASCAR’s conclusions are NOT going to match the NTSB’s. From memory, having read enough NTSB accident reports, it will read along the lines of: “Cause of Accident, Pilot error. Failure to maintain appropriate altitude\airspeed for landing. Contributing factors include smoke in cockpit. Additionally, pilot chose to ignore potential maintenance issue which may have contributed to inflight smoke\fire.”

No matter what happens, the FAA and NTSB hold that the pilot in command is responsible for what happens when the aircraft is in flight. So here’s the interesting part, Per the NTSB report:

“The director explained that the pilot was authorized to fly the accident
airplane for his personal use by corporate officers, but only when accompanied
by the accident ATP, who was the company’s “most senior captain.” He further stated
that the commercial pilot would act as pilot in command, and would not receive flight
instruction from the ATP.”

So far, so good, EXCEPT:

“According to the SOP, a captain, or pilot-in-command, must hold an ATP certificate
with appropriate type ratings. Additionally, prior to serving as pilot-in-command
on any type aircraft operated by the company, the pilot must complete an FAA or
company-approved initial training program.”

Then there’s this:

“The commercial pilot completed Cessna 310 training, but did not meet the ratings
requirement in the SOP; neither did the company document any exceptions in the
SOP for him.”

And finally:

“The personal use of the airplane was contrary to the SOP, which stated, “The
expeditious transportation provided by Company aircraft is to be directed to those activities
which have a positive impact on corporate earnings.” According to the Director
of Aviation, the commercial pilot’s assistant would sometimes call to schedule the airplane,
and would sometimes call the ATP directly. According to the SOP, “The use of
company aircraft will be requested by completing a corporate aircraft utilization request
form.” In addition, “The chief pilot will evaluate and approve all aircraft charter
services used by NASCAR personnel.””

So, while the Dr. Kennedy and Mr. Klemm did not break Federal regs (although IMO, they were VERY stupid in insisting on flying the aircraft after a legitimate maintenence “sqauwk” had been entered on the radar unit), they did break company regs. I’m thinking that nobody in the aviation dept. wanted to make waves that the bosses husband was getting free twin-engine time in a company aircraft. From the statements of the training school both men attended, it sounds like Dr. Kennedy was shaky when it came to flying twin engine aircraft. So they MAY have grabbed the Cessna to run an errand AND get Dr. Kennedy some stick time, in violation of their own rules. Sort of a “do as we say, not as we do” story.

05/15/2008 12:17 PM

Great work, Jeff.

05/15/2008 12:35 PM

Great article Jeff.

The FAA/NTSB final report will definitely be different from what we hear from the NASCAR spin-masters.

Having grown up around aircraft, flown a few as a student pilot, and worked on them in the military, there are certain things you can and can’t do and it sounds like the crew on that Cessna didn’t really bother with erring on the side of safety, which is what any good pilot will do. Even if it’s for something others might deem silly or unimportant.

I’ll be curious to see just what the final results turn out to be.

05/15/2008 03:43 PM

Great article… Nothing new about NASCAR trying to hide the truth, or just make up the rules as they go along.
Be interesting to see what the NTSB report says.
I’m interesting in seeing if the NTSB digs deeper and finds out if the flight was indeed for pleasure or was a NASCAR business flight. Could be NASCAR is trying to get ahead the curve to deflect any blame from them. If it is found out it was some kinda of “working flight” for NASCAR business,.. then NASCAR can be sued by the families of the people that got killed.
They could also be liable if found that NO one with proper training was in control of the plane…
IF that were to happen NASCAR would be out from under their little “protective umbrella where THEY are judge, jury, and executioner…. They would have to play in the REAL legal system, and IMO could easily loose a BIG chuck of change. Be interesting to see it all unfold

J. Meyer
05/15/2008 06:20 PM

As mmack pointed out in his above post, there were no laws or regulations that were broken.

What was broken, by personal directive of NASCAR Aviation Director, Jim Pomroy, is NASCAR’s own Stardard Operating Procedures regarding it aircraft.

Dr Kennedy DID have proper training in the 310, but did NOT meet NASCAR’s own rules when came to being the ‘pilot in command’.

And, as has already been stated, the NTSB AND even Jim Pomroy agree…(as per the report)
“Problems with the aircraft DO NOT relieve the pilot from ultimate responsibility.” -Jim Pomroy

“The director (Jim Pomroy) explained that the pilot was authorized to fly the accident
airplane for his personal use by corporate officers, but only when accompanied
by the accident ATP, who was the company’s “most senior captain.” He further stated
that the commercial pilot (Dr. Kennedy) would act as pilot in command, and would not receive flight
instruction from the ATP.” -NTSB

05/16/2008 03:54 PM

When the senior members of Nascar’s elite set their own table and follow their own agendas for accumilation of vast wealth, without regard to any of the restraints and rules the rest of us live by, then what comes around, goes around.

A very revealing story of the CYA that Nascar practices daily in all it’s dealings.


Contact Jeff Meyer

Recent articles from Jeff Meyer:

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