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Plane Crash: When a Million-Dollar Plane Falls Apart in the Sky

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Wainwright, AB: When A.D. Williams Engineering President Reagan Williams taxied along the runway at the City Centre Airport in Edmonton, Alberta the morning of March 28th, he couldn't know that his Piper PA-46 aircraft would become the next plane crash statistic, and never make it back.

In fact, he couldn't know that within a half hour he, and his four passengers would be dead.

The Piper-46 Turbo Malibu lifted off from the tarmac enroute from Edmonton to Winnipeg around 8am Friday, when it disappeared from the radar at 8:12 AM mountain time. Wreckage was found about four hours later strewn across a wide area about 7 miles northeast of Wainwright, Alberta near the Battle River.

The Canadian Transportation Safety Board is investigating the crash, and while it had no official comment, it has been reported, and is widely believed that the plane broke apart in the air. The finding of aircraft wreckage over a wide area supports that hypothesis.

Friends and family of the pilot, as well as employees of the engineering firm were reeling over the deaths of Williams, 41 and a married father of one, as well as Chief Financial Officer Phil Allard and A.D. Williams executive Rhonda Quirke. Two other contract employees of the firm died in the crash.

What makes the tragedy all the more compelling, is that five months to the day prior to the Piper crash, a Cessna piloted by Williams' father, and the founder of the firm, crashed into a creek near Golden, British Columbia. Allen Williams was killed in the plane crash, together with Steven Sutton, at the time the CFO for the firm.

Miraculously, Williams' three-year-old granddaughter Kate, who was along for the flight, survived. She was found upside down, still strapped into her child safety seat, pining for her stuffed toy that lay just outside the plane on the ground. She could see it through the window. The toddler suffered only minor cuts and scrapes in the crash that killed her grandfather.

Beyond the shock of two plane crashes devastating a family and a company within five months of one another, are the questions...

Why?

In the case of the most recent crash, weather conditions were not believed to be a factor and Williams was an experienced pilot. While it has been reported previously that the Piper PA-46 Turbo Malibu is a high-performance plane and not just 'anybody' can fly it, Williams held both a private and commercial pilots license and regularly flew the firm's aircraft.

However, there are those who feel there is an issue with the Piper PA-46, a model that has experienced its share of crashes over the years.

And some have been eerily similar.

Last June Piper PA-46 500TP single-engine turboprop built in 2006 left the tarmac at Spirit of St Louis Airport in Chesterfield, enroute to Buffalo, Minnesota at about 8am, the same time of day Williams lifted off with his four passengers from Canada. At 8:15am the Piper aircraft carrying David McCormick and two passengers from McC Aviation disappeared from radar.

It appeared that the plane broke apart in the air. The wreckage was found in a hayfield about 30 miles northwest of Warrenton in several pieces, indicating to investigators that it came down that way.

Aviation experts have speculated that the failure of sophisticated equipment aboard the aircraft could cause the aircraft to stall and plunge into a steep dive so severe, the resistance would shear the wings clear off. Reports in the St. Louis crash suggest that the plane was having engine trouble before it went down.

The plane is built to seat six passengers, but it is not known if overloading was a factor in either crash.

It should be noted that in 1991 Piper Aircraft filed for protection under Chapter 11 of the Federal Bankruptcy Code, suggesting that the potential for plane-crash lawsuits had scared off potential lenders. Even with a $100 million order backlog, the private company could not find lenders due to product liability concerns. "Essentially, you're betting the company every time you open the door," said Piper President C. Raymond Johnson, at the time.

Piper had become self-insured four years prior. The liability issue would remain, virtually grinding manufacture of light aircraft to a halt until 1995, when new legislation limited liability on the part of manufacturers. Since then, the light aircraft market has not only recovered, but is growing.

Piper Aircraft emerged from Chapter 11 to become re-branded as The New Piper Aircraft Company of the United States.

Interestingly, the Malibu plane, which has been around since 1983, was at the center of concern surrounding insurance and liability issues back in 1991. In March of that year, its Malibu planes were all but grounded after the US federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued an emergency order advising that the plane be flown only in good weather.

Seven airborne Malibus had broken apart over a span of 22 months, mostly in bad weather.

Good weather or bad, it appears in 2008 that break-up in mid-air of an aircraft costing over a million dollars to purchase, is still happening.

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READER COMMENTS

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PA 46 went down in Georgia this week . Do you feel the Matrix, which is the newer Malibu is better and saftety issues resolved?

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