Pilot was likely distracted before crash that killed 8 off North Carolina’s coast, investigators say

Feb 6, 2024, 9:06 AM

BEAUFORT, N.C. (AP) — The pilot of a small plane that crashed off North Carolina’s coast in 2022, killing the pilot, four teens and three other adults, was likely distracted while trying to program the aircraft’s flight management system after takeoff, according to a final report from federal investigators.

The pilot likely failed to monitor the aircraft’s speed as the plane slowed down and stalled, the report said. The pilot also likely experienced “spatial disorientation” after the stall because of poor weather conditions that limited his visibility. He failed to regain control of the airplane.

The National Transportation Safety Board published its final report on the crash last week, nearly two years after the single-engine Pilatus PC-12 crashed in the Atlantic Ocean near the southern edge of the Outer Banks.

Six of the passengers were from coastal Carteret County and were returning from a charity hunting event. The plane had taken off from the Hyde County Airport on the mainland and was headed south to Beaufort, the Carteret County seat.

Carteret County includes communities such as Emerald Isle and Atlantic Beach as well as the Cape Lookout National Seashore. But the mostly rural county is also home to older fishing villages.

The sheriff’s office identified the adults on board the plane as pilot Ernest Durwood Rawls, 67, of Greenville; Jeffrey Worthington Rawls, 28, of Greenville; Stephanie Ann McInnis Fulcher, 42, of Sea Level; and Douglas Hunter Parks, 45, of Sea Level.

The teenagers were identified as Jonathan Kole McInnis, 15, of Sea Level; Noah Lee Styron, 15, of Cedar Island; Michael Daily Shepard, 15, of Atlantic; and Jacob Nolan Taylor, 16, of Atlantic. The four teenagers went to East Carteret High School.

The pilot’s estate, as well as the companies that employed the pilot and owned the plane, reached a $15 million settlement last year with the families of five passengers who had filed wrongful death lawsuits.

The final NTSB report stated that the pilot failed to enter a flight plan into the airplane’s integrated flight management system before taking off. He said, “we’ll get to it later.”

“From shortly after when the airplane leveled after takeoff through the final seconds of the flight, the pilot attempted to program, delete, reprogram and activate a flight plan into the airplane’s flight management system,” the report stated.

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Pilot was likely distracted before crash that killed 8 off North Carolina’s coast, investigators say