By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter
CHEHALIS – The small plane that crashed and burned last night near the airport in Chehalis was a three-quarter-sized replica of a popular WWII fighter plane, just put back together after being purchased and trailered in from out of the area.
The P5151 Mustang was piloted by a Centralia-Chehalis area resident who rented a hangar less than two weeks ago, Chehalis-Centralia Airport Manager Allyn Roe said.
“They spent the past week and a half getting the airplane reassembled,” Roe said. “I had not seen this plane fly, so I do not not know if it was its first flight or not.”
The pilot, a man whose identity has not been released, was killed when shortly after take off, the aircraft slammed into a fenced parking lot across Interstate 5 from the airport.
The crash into or just in front of two parked trucks included at least two explosions and a fire that burned very, very hot, according to neighbors and the fire chief.
It basically disintegrated, Chehalis Police Department Chief Glenn Schaffer said. “There was nothing left on the ground to indicate what type it was.”
Lewis County Coroner Warren McLeod confirmed the pilot was a Lewis County resident and said an autopsy will be conducted tomorrow. He’s been in contact with the family, McLeod said.
Police said the pilot’s family was at the airport before take off and also briefly at the crash scene.
The victim’s name will be released after he makes final positive identification through dental records or DNA, McLeod said.
The last fatal aircraft accident in the Chehalis-Centralia area was in 1991, according to Roe.
Roe said the short flight was witnessed by an out-of-the-area corporate jet pilot, who described the small plane as taking off to the north and really not going any higher than about 100 feet.
“Essentially it appeared that it was struggling to climb and gave an indication the motor was stalling,” Roe related.
It headed east instead of the normal traffic pattern of going west, Roe said, always in a right-hand turn.
“And then it rolled into what we describe as a knife edge,” he said. “One wing up, and one wing down.”
It was just before 7 p.m. when firefighters and police were dispatched to the fire just east of the freeway, along Maryland Avenue.
The Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board are investigating.
Allen Kenitzer, an FAA spokesperson, said the aircraft is classified an experimental plane, meaning it was built by an individual and not a factory. The NTSB is the lead agency, he said.
No one on the ground was injured as it landed inside the fenced area of Chehalis Collision Center, a repair business.
“So nobody else was hurt,” Chief Schaffer said. “Whether that was a conscious decision by the pilot, I don’t know.
“But we’re fortunate and thankful that was the case.”
Schaffer said the business had a security camera pointed toward the area where the plane landed. It’s not information that will help police with their part of the investigation though, he said.
“We let the NTSB know, and pointed them in that direction,” Schaffer said.
Peter Knudson, a spokesperson for the NTSB, said an investigator was at the scene gathering information.
The pilot was not in communication with air traffic control, but the investigator spoke to at least one witness who said after takeoff, the plane appeared to be unstable, sort of pitching and rolling, Knudson said.
A preliminary report describing the facts and circumstances ought to be available within about 10 business days, he said, but the average length of an investigation is 12 months.