DANBURY, CT — A plane that crashed last week during takeoff from Danbury Airport lost altitude quickly and rolled to one side before crashing into a wooded area, according to a preliminary report released by federal investigators.
The report, released Tuesday by the National Transportation Safety Board, said the plane, a Cessna 172 Skyhawk piloted by Redding resident Mark Stern, 63, was “assuming a nose-up attitude” before it rolled to the left and spun to the ground.
Stern, an experienced pilot, died of his injuries four days later. Two other passengers, whom authorities have yet to identify, also suffered serious injuries, the report said.
Sources have said weight could have been a factor in the crash, but an aviation expert who reviewed the preliminary results for Hearst Connecticut Media said weight is only one of several variables that could have caused the accident.
Matt Robinson, a former aviation accident investigator for the U.S. Navy, said the initial report could also point to a loss of power, cautioning more data would be needed to make a determination.
“One of the most common, insidious and deadly situations is a power interruption shortly after takeoff,” said Robinson, an aviation expert with Pennsylvania-based Robson Forensics.
The report said the plane had begun losing altitude while still over the runway and the pilot appeared to be trying to correct its course.
Robinson said the pilot might have pulled the nose up in an effort to maintain the plane’s air speed, but the aircraft might have stalled. In an aircraft, a stall occurs when the wings lose lift and can no longer support the plane.
“Any overcorrection or incorrect inputs leading to uncoordinated flight, combined with a stall, will result in a spin shortly after takeoff that you can’t recover from,” Robinson said.
Pilots are trained to recover from a stall, but the Cessna did not have enough altitude to perform the emergency procedure, Robinson said.
“Your best chance, if you’re at an altitude below 500 feet and you have a power interruption, is to make a forced landing,” Robinson said.
The NTSB report states the plane was full of fuel when it took off and its annual inspection was completed July 21, less than two weeks prior to the accident.
The report also confirmed the plane was rented from Arrow Aviation and that no flight plan was filed with the FAA. Stern had a license to operate both helicopters and single-engine aircraft and had logged about 582 hours of flight experience.
Stern’s obituary described him as “a lifetime student and teacher who continued exploring new fields of endeavor, including becoming an experienced aviator flying both helicopters and airplanes. His true passions were family, flying, and making a positive difference on those around him.”
Stern’s flying experience included time spent volunteering as a pilot with Eagle 1, a search-and-rescue helicopter operated by the Stratford Police Department, the obituary said.
Stern, an attorney with offices in Norwalk, also had served as a member of the Wilton Fire Commissioners, as a police officer in Culver City, Calif., and as a volunteer trooper for the Florida State Highway patrol.
Stern was licensed to practice law in Connecticut, New York, California and Florida.
A full report by the NTSB likely will take more than a year to complete.