NORTH MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - The pilot at the controls of a plane that crashed into a North Myrtle Beach mobile home last week did not meet requirements to fly at night, according to officials with the National Transportation Safety Board.
A preliminary report released by the agency Tuesday revealed the plane's pilot, identified as Danny Carroll, was unable to satisfy night currency requirements prior to the July 14 crash in North Myrtle Beach. Carroll and two passengers on the plane died.
According to officials, Carroll received a one hour checkout with a certified flight instructor on July 6, as a stipulation of renting an airplane. Carroll was required to complete a solo flight on July 12 to satisfy night currency requirements, but failed to make the flight due to inclement weather.
The day of the fatal accident, the NTSB reported Carroll rented a Piper PA-28 under the agreement he would have it safely returned to a North Carolina airport before 8:30 p.m. Carroll, according to officials, left a message with an operator stating he would arrive later than the deadline due to the clearing of inclement weather.
Myrtle Beach area flight instructor Bill O'Hara said there is a chance Carroll took steps to get his night currency just after sunset and before leaving the airport on the night of the crash. O'Hara said Carroll needed to do three takeoffs and landings to a complete stop to meet the requirement. No one is required to witness the process.
O'Hara also said no one at the airport would have the knowledge or authority to stop Carroll if he chose to ignore the night currency requirement. Only an officer with the Federal Aviation Administration could have stopped Carroll, and that would have only happened if an officer stopped by the airport that night.
"The pilot is responsible to make sure that they can complete the flight safely and that they are current to fly that," O'Hara explained. "The tower couldn't do that. They would have no knowledge of this."
What stood out more to O'Hara was information in the report about the flight itself.
Just after 8:50 p.m. on July 14, North Myrtle Beach spokeswoman Nicole Aiello said multiple 911 calls reported a plane crash at the Creekside Mobile Home Park off of Little River Neck Road. Several witnesses near the accident site reported hearing and seeing a plane fly low, followed by a loud impact.
The NTSB report stated that Carroll did not rise in altitude above 700 feet, even after flying for five miles.
"He had been cleared to 6,000 feet, so he chose to stay down for some reason," O'Hara said. "The fact that he remained at 700 feet makes me think that he was dealing with something. What it was I don't know.
"It makes me think that he was possibly paying attention to something that was happening in the airplane and trying to make a decision on maybe returning to the airport, but I don't know that."
"Two witnesses reported hearing continuous engine noise prior to impact, while one witnesses stated the engine was cutting in and out," NTSB investigators revealed in the preliminary report.
Two other witnesses, according to investigators, reported seeing flames prior to the impact, but the majority of witnesses did not.
"We saw the plane and everything," said Joshua Randall, who lives in the area and witnessed the crash. "It was circling around, then it came in a big loop and went down and hit the trailer."
Investigators said the plane appeared to have hit in front of a mobile home and slid into it, setting the home ablaze. A debris path originated at the rear of the residence, extending approximately 45 feet.
The plane was approximately 5 miles into flight from the Grand Strand Regional Airport at the time of the accident.
North Myrtle Beach officials said flight records indicated Carroll and three others were onboard the plane when it crashed into the mobile home, killing all of its occupants.
Horry County Coroner Robert Edge later confirmed the identities of the three victims as Carroll, 54, his wife, Raychel, 66, and their granddaughter, Mallory Fields, 4. Edge said all three victims died from massive trauma.
Bob Gretz, a senior NTSB air safety investigator, said officials were able to successfully recover all four corners of the plane - including its nose, tail and two wings.The four pieces of the plane were sent to Griffin, GA, where investigators did not find any evidence of "catastrophic failure" in the underside of the plane's engine and cylinders.
Investigators were unable to recover a GPS or blackbox-type of device that would provide further clues into the crash. Gretz also added only two readable instruments were salvaged from the plane's cockpit.
An examination of Carroll's flight experience and pilot log revealed the 54-year-old held a private pilot certificate, with ratings for single-engine land airplanes and instrument airplanes.
"His most recent FAA third-class medical certificate was issued on Mar. 27, 2009. At that time, the pilot reported a total flight experience of 640 hours," the NTSB revealed in its preliminary report.
At the pilot's most recent checkout in the airplane involved in the accident, Carroll said he had accumulated approximately 100 hours of flying in Piper Arrows.
The NTSB and FAA expect to continue their crash investigation until a detailed report is released in six months. After six months, the reports will move on to an official safety board and a factual report will be released.