Investigators stumped by plane crash

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 13, 1999

Investigators, eyewitnesses and friends of Kenneth Netherland were still struggling Monday to piece together what could have caused the Ferriday pilot’s plane to crash Saturday in northeast Mississippi.

The crash, which happened at 3:50 p.m. just north of Brooksville between U.S. 45 and U.S. 45 Alternate, killed Netherland and destroyed the Cessna 310 he was delivering to Bland Greeson of Rayville, La.

According to eyewitnesses, Netherland’s plane circled a few times before the crash, probably to avoid crashing in the small town. Noxubee County resident Paul Graber, himself a pilot for almost 20 years, noticed Netherland’s plane was in trouble when it flew over his farm.

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&uot;The plane stalled and went into a spin, then came out of it, but by then he was too close to the ground,&uot;&160;Graber said. &uot;He was just too low.&uot;

Although the plane stalled at first, the engine sounded as though it was going full throttle as the plane dove and, finally, crashed in neighbor Richard Johnson’s pasture, Graber said.

&uot;He was coming almost straight down, but he kept the engine wide open,&uot;&160;said Johnson, who has no flying experience. &uot;That didn’t make much sense to me.

&uot;At first, I&160;thought it was someone doing a stunt. I&160;kept thinking he would pull up, but he just didn’t.&uot;

But, although federal officials just started their investigation in earnest Monday, George Prellzo, regional director of the National Transportation Safety Board, said Netherland apparently sent out no distress calls to area airports.

NTSB and Federal Aviation Administration workers will finish interviewing witnesses and combing the crash site for clues and release a preliminary report about the crash in the next three to four days, Prellzo said Monday.

After examining every piece of wreckage from the plane, including carefully examining the engines, the NTSB will release a final report in four to six months, he added.

Netherland’s friends in the Miss-Lou said they do not understand how the crash could happen, given his reputation for knowledge and painstaking safety measures.

&uot;He was safety conscious and did training on a regular basis,&uot;&160;said Oliver Harrison who, along with Netherland, had flown as an independent contractor for Boone Newspapers Inc., parent company of The Natchez Democrat.

&uot;It’s hard to imagine him doing something that would jeopardize a flight.&uot;

&uot;He was full of knowledge about flying,&uot;&160;said Thomas Borum, a pilot who got his instructor’s rating with Netherland’s help. &uot;Most anybody who flies in this area relied on him.&uot;

In the Miss-Lou aviation community, two main theories now exist regarding the cause of the crash, said Clint Pomeroy, director of the Natchez-Adams County Airport.

One guess is that something happened to Netherland physically that made him lose control of the plane. But his friends said the 46-year-old was in good health and loved active pastimes like skiing and scuba diving.

An autopsy performed on Netherland Sunday by State Medical Examiner Steve Haynes did not turn up any evidence of health problems, said Ernest Eichelberger, deputy coroner for Noxubee County.

&uot;But even if that was the cause of the crash, that probably wouldn’t be determined by the autopsy,&uot;&160;he said. &uot;That’s probably something the FAA’s investigation would reveal.&uot;

Another theory is that something went wrong with the plane mechanically. For his part, Greeson said he had never laid eyes on the Cessna.

&uot;I&160;bought one because Kenneth had one, and I&160;liked flying his,&uot;&160;said Greeson, whom Netherland taught to fly.

Netherland was set to fly the plane from Morristown, Tenn., to Natchez and then to Rayville. But Greeson said Netherland — whom he described as one of his closest friends — would not have done so unless he believed the craft was completely safe.

Personnel at Moore-Murrell Field in Morristown do not recall saying more than a few words to Netherland as he prepared to take off for Natchez.

And they would not have spoken to him at length unless he stopped to refuel or have his plane serviced — which he didn’t, said Moore-Murrell employee Bob Shoun.

Meanwhile, Netherland’s funeral arrangements were finalized Monday at Young’s Funeral Home in Ferriday. Services will be held at 11 a.m. today at the funeral home. Burial will be in Greenlawn Memorial Cemetery in Natchez.

On Monday, his friends in the aviation community stopped to talk about the Netherland they remember — a man who was serious about flying but was as jovial and easy-going as anyone.

&uot;He was a hard worker, but he enjoyed life for was it was, and he never met a stranger,&uot;&160;Harrison said. &uot;He was as easy to get along with as he was careful with the operation of a plane.&uot;

&uot;I’ll remember his laugh most of all,&uot;&160;said airplane mechanic and Natchez firefighter Chris Gibson. &uot;He was always smiling. It was a joy to be around the man.&uot;

&uot;He always had a good frame of mind, an upbeat attitude about everything,&uot; said Johnny Blunschi III, pilot and chairman of the Concordia Parish Airport Authority. &uot;He was just a nice guy to know.&uot;