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,
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