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Small Plane Crash in Chesapeake, VA Kills Pilot and Passenger

A brother and sister lost their lives at the Chesapeake Regional Airport on Sunday, April 3, 2011, when their Lancair IV high-performance single-propeller plane crashed shortly after taking off and experiencing engine trouble. The man was an Army helicopter test pilot who had bought the plane used in 2008.

According to the Virginian-Pilot, "James Lawrence Stidfole II, 45, [of Yorktown, Virginia (VA)] the pilot and registered owner of the plane, and his sister, Teresa Marie Hill, 42, of Virginia Beach died upon impact." The same type of plane was involved in the accident that killed a jogger on a Hilton Head, South Carolina (SC), in 2010. That crash, too, resulted from engine failure.

Chesapeake police and the National Transportation Safety Board have begun investigating what caused the engine on Stidfole and Hill's plane to backfire repeatedly before the Lancair fell to the ground. The NTSB conducts analyses of every air crash that causes injuries and deaths, as well as of serious structural failures of aircraft that do not result in casualties. For instance, agency engineers and scientists are currently fanning out across the United States to try to determine why a handful of Boeing 737-300 jetliners operated by Southwest Airlines developed cracks and holes in their fuselages.

Investigators will examine every piece of the engine, fuselage, wings and controls they can recover from the downed plane in Chesapeake. They will also review maintenance records. The goal is to discover whether any deficiencies with the equipment or lapses in the installation or upkeep of the parts were present before the accident. If problems are identified, the agency may issue guidance or regulations to prevent those problems from recurring.

As a licensed pilot myself, I know that airplanes are complex machines and that even the smallest flaw in a factory-delivered part or the slightest oversight during an inspection can cause a deadly accident. Maintenance and construction can be particular concerns for the Lancair IV, since it is a kit-built aircraft. Unlike larger commercial planes, the Lancair IV and several of its general aviation sister craft are sold in pieces that owners must assemble before flying the small planes.


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