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The Record, Thursday, Nov. 23, 2000

Heights crash pilot likely stalled plane
NTSB report refers to steep, low turns
By Shannon D. Harrington, Staff Writer


A Virginia pilot who crashed his plane into a Hasbrouck Heights neighborhood last December as he approached Teterboro Airport

apparently lost control of the plane after a series of steep turns at reduced airspeed and low altitude.

Although a report released this week by the National Transportation Safety Board does not specifically state a cause for the Dec. 9 crash, the report makes numerous references to conditions that would indicate a stalled aircraft, including low altitude and steep turns made by the pilot at low airspeed.

Robert Grinch, a Ridgewood pilot and flight instructor, said after reviewing the report that it appears the aircraft stalled, meaning the wings could not produce enough lift to maintain level flight.

But "there is nothing [in the report] to explain why a highly experienced pilot would get himself into this predicament," he said.

The report, the most comprehensive account of the accident to date, made no reference to mechanical failure or weather-related problems.

The NTSB report estimates that the pilot, Paul A. Pedersen Jr., has about 11,000 hours of flight time leading up to the fatal crash, which claimed his life and the lives of three passengers – a co-worker at his aviation business and a young couple. All were from the Richmond VA, area. Three people on the ground were injured in the aftermath of the crash.

Pedersen and his passengers were flying in his 1980 Beech Baron shortly after sundown Dec. 9, approaching Teterboro from the west.

Although Pedersen’s aviation company told NTSB investigators that the pilot was familiar with Teterboro, some pilots have speculated that he was disoriented or maybe tired.

Pedersen had made an earlier flight that day, and the young couple were trying to make it to a party in New York.

The skies were very congested, the report says.

About 5:11 p.m., Pedersen asked the control tower for a visual approach instead of an instrument-aided approach.

The controller denied that request, and about 5:22, the controller told Pedersen that he was seventh in a line of planes waiting to land. Meanwhile, 20 planes on the ground were awaiting takeoff.

The controller then told Pedersen to fly over the airport at 1,500 feet and make a left turn.

About four minutes later, the controller asked Pedersen where he was headed.

"I’m trying to do a 180 [degree turn] to follow that traffic on final," Pedersen said, according to the report.

The controller replied: "No sir, I want you overhead and left of the field….You’re turning right into traffic at 1,000 feet that’s proceeding up the northwest, sir."

The last reported radar position of Pedersen’s plane, about 5:26, placed the plane at 500 feet, 1,000 feet below the controller’s orders.

Three witnesses on the ground, according to the report, saw the plane make a steep right turn, followed by a sharp left turn, after which the plane dived straight down until they lost sight of it.

When another witness approached the scene, the plane was fully engulfed in flames.

Pedersen had lost his license for 45 days after crashing another plane that ran out of fuel over Maryland. And two other flying incidents were under investigation at the time of his death.

The NTSB investigator who wrote the report, Robert Hancock, could not be reached for comment Wednesday. An NTSB spokesman said that although no cause was determined in the most recent report, the facts will be used to declare a cause in a future report.

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