Crash pilot: ‘I’m not going to give up yet’
The chilling recordings, just released in written excerpt by the National Transportation Safety Board, indicate that pilot David I. Brown was trying to find a tiny grass airstrip in the fog and rain. Brown, an instrument-rated pilot attempting to land at an airport with no support for instrument approaches, was apparently searching for a break in the clouds to enable a visual approach.
Brown, 55, and his passenger, friend, and business colleague Robert H. Baldwin, 75, died when Brown's single-engine Beechcraft Bonanza crashed and burned in a pasture along Plank Road, about half a mile from the tiny runway.
"It's a little too cloudy at the moment," Brown reported to a Northern Virginia controller when the plane was at 4,000 feet. "Can you get me any lower?"
"That's as low as I can give," responds the controller.
A moment later, Brown seems to indicate that he's visually located the Bundoran Farm airport as he declines the controller's offer for a northwest approach. "Actually," Brown reports, "the field is directly under me if I could, ah, spiral down."
The preliminary NTSB report indicates that Brown had landed at the mountain-surrounded runway 25 to 30 times previously– but never before during nighttime or rain conditions. In those cases, according to the report, Brown would land at the Charlottesville-Albemarle Airport, which offers runway lights, a control tower, and electronic assistance for instrument approaches. As previously reported, the much larger airport received no request for a landing from Brown on the day of the crash.
The NTSB sets the crash time as 11:14am, 13 minutes earlier than previously reported, and says the purpose of the trip was to work on conservation easements. The two men, the founder and the regional director, of New Hampshire-based Qroe Farm Preservation Development, were considered pioneers in creative development of farmland. Qroe had purchased Bundoran Farm in January and announced plans to build 88 homesites on its 2,300 acres.
The report notes that Brown had 3,650 hours of flight time, was FAA-rated for instrument flying, and held a pilot's license that allowed him to pilot single and twin-engine planes.
FAA spokespersons have indicated that the controller with which the plane was communicating is located at the FAA's Potomac Terminal Radar Approach Control (pictured here) in Flint Hill, a military installation near Warrenton. The TRACON keeps air traffic separate at airports without a tower of their own.
Contrary to one initial report from the FAA, the NTSB found no evidence that the plane had struck overhead wires or any other obstacle. And a check by the Hook of the two electrical utilities that serve that part of Albemarle County found no reports of outages.
As the plane number N202EN made its final approach, Brown signalled a switch from an instrument to a visual radio frequency and made his final recorded radio transmission: "Ah, roger two echo november, I'm not going to give up yet."