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NTSB report: No evidence of bird strike, plane flying ‘abnormally slow’ before crash

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WASHINGTON -- The NTSB has released its preliminary report on the plane crash that killed a 16-year-old pilot in Orange County Sunday morning.

The report states Ryan McCall was headed for the Farmville Regional Airport when the 1974 Piper, model PA28-140, plane he was flying crashed shortly after takeoff in a field just east of the Orange County Airport around 9:45 a.m.

According to the report, the flight school's owner said McCall was beginning his first cross-county flight when she saw the accident happen.

"She stated that the takeoff appeared normal, but that the pilot appeared to initiate a left turn to the crosswind leg of the traffic pattern earlier than was customary. As the airplane turned left, she watched as its nose pitched upward before it rolled sharply left and descended to ground contact.

Two pilot-rated witnesses located on the north side of the airport observed the airplane during the takeoff.

They remarked to each other that it appeared "abnormally slow" and stated that it did not seem to be gaining altitude. Both individuals also reported viewing a thin trail of "smoke" or "brown exhaust" from the airplane's engine.

The witnesses observed the airplane make a sharp left turn and descend steeply to ground contact. One of the witnesses reported that the winds were light and variable from the north and east."

Additionally, officials said the plane's windscreen and wings showed no evidence of a bird strike. McCall's instructors had speculated that birds in the area could have been to blame for the tragedy.

The report also said McCall had logged just over 30 hours of flight time with around three hours of solo flight time. Additionally, investigators said he had charted about 18 hours of flight time in the Piper aircraft.

The NTSB continues to investigate the crash.


'Really good spirit'

McCall's friends, classmates and teachers at Riverbend High School in Spotsylvania County remembered the sophomore as smart and athletic. They also said he was a man of faith who came from a tight-knit family that helped him achieves his goals.

"He just has a really good spirit, I mean he was flying planes. He wanted to fly a plane, not everybody wanted to do that," said Raeghan Fennewale, a Riverbend High School junior who grew up with McCall.

Wyatt Bagley, a senior at Riverbend High, said Ryan died doing something he loved.

The 16-year-old was killed when the plane he was flying crashed Sunday after his brother, Brandon, a Junior at RPS, dropped him off for a flight lesson. CBS 6 News has learned McCall's family did not witness the crash.

 Ryan McCall

Ryan McCall

The teenager had been a pilot for more than a year. Virginia's Aviation Board President Johnny Meza said seeing a 16-year-old pilot is not uncommon. He said the only restrictions on McCall would have been he need to fly either solo or with another certified pilot. McCall was flying solo at the time of the crash.

"Everyone was really upset. We did a moment of silence after the principal talked to us and a lot of people left class," Bagley said.

While the NTSB and FAA investigate what caused the teen pilot to crash, extra counselors have been brought in to help Riverbend students and staff come to terms with the fact the star student and athlete won't finish school at RHS with his older and younger brothers.

"It's always sad when you hear something like this happen to one of our students. They're so young and vibrant and when this happens we do assemble a team into action our crisis team," said Spotsylvania Schools spokesperson Rene Daniels. "We do have some students and staff members that are going to our counseling staff and asking for some support. He was a great student and he will be missed by many."

The school system will have counselors on hand all week and has provided grief management resources on its website for parents and students.

"We're just going to have support each other," said, Bagley. "People are going to remember him as the one who crashed the plane. The one who was doing something with his life. He was really smart. He was one of those kids who didn't mess around and wasn't into the scene that most kids fall into."

The Spotsylvania County School Board has planned moment of silence to honor Ryan on its April 13 meeting.