Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, March 2, 2006

Improper airspeed caused fatal Nahiku air crash, federal report finds

By Christie Wilson
Advertiser Neighbor Island Editor

The pilot's failure to maintain adequate airspeed while maneuvering his Cessna 177 over Nahiku in East Maui on July 13, 2002, caused the plane to stall and nosedive into a eucalyptus forest, killing all four people aboard, including two children, a federal report said.

Pilot Steve Betsill's actions were cited in a National Transportation Safety Board report issued Tuesday on the probable cause of the crash.

Betsill, 47, was vice president of sales and marketing for Kihei-based Betsill Brothers Construction, a home-building and development company run by Betsill and his three brothers. He was involved in the South Maui and Central Maui Little Leagues and was active at First Assembly of God in Kahului.

The NTSB report said the Cessna left Kahului Airport about 2 p.m. on a scenic tour of West Maui, Moloka'i and East Maui. Also on board were Jerry Betsill, the pilot's cousin and an attorney from Fort Worth, Texas, and Jerry Betsill's 11-year-old daughter, Emma, and his 10-year-old niece, Meredith Fenimore of Dallas.

The flight was to return by 5 p.m. for a family function. Family members told the NTSB that Betsill intended to fly over property he recently had purchased in Nahiku, about a half-mile from where the plane crashed.

Air traffic controllers at Kahului Airport said the Cessna was last spotted on radar heading east off the coast at Pauwela. The aircraft hit the ground around 4:10 p.m. in a densely forested area about three miles northwest of the Hana Airport and about 150 yards mauka of Hana Highway.

There were no witnesses to the accident. The wreckage was not located until two days later, when a helicopter hired by the Betsill family found the crash site the morning of July 15.

The NTSB report said there was no damage to the surrounding treetops in the eucalyptus grove, indicating a steep plunge. The fuselage was crushed from the nose past the aft bulkhead area, with the engine buried under a foot of earth at a near vertical angle, the report said.

In the final moments of its descent, the plane's left wing apparently hit a large tree at a height of 75 feet, the report said.

Investigators found no problems with the frame or engine of the aircraft, which was built in 1968.

Betsill had been flying for less than two years. Federal Aviation Administration records showed that he held a private pilot certificate with an airplane helicopter single-engine land rating, and that Betsill had logged 136.2 hours of flight time, including 37.2 hours in a Cessna 177.

Reach Christie Wilson at cwilson@honoluluadvertiser.com.