By Dianne Sudbrock
On Tuesday, January 11, 2021, a press conference regarding the January 8 plane crash near New Melle, MO, was held at the St. Charles County Police Headquarters in O’Fallon.
The names of the two pilots who perished in the crash were released: George F. King, 55, of Westerville, OH and Amanda D. Youngblood, 35, Huberheights, OH. King had over 6000 hours of flight experience; Youngblood had over 1000 hours of flight experience. Both were employees of AirNet II LLC, a cargo airline based in Franklin County, OH.
Mike Folkerts, Air Safety Investigator from the National Transportation and Safety Board (NTSB), began his comments by offering condolences to the victims’ families and friends. He also thanked local first responders, including the St. Charles County Police Department, New Melle Fire Department, and St. Charles County Ambulance District. “The support on the scene was exceptional,” he said.
Folkerts said, “The purpose of an NTSB investigation is fairly straightforward — we’re looking to try to prevent the next tragedy.” To do that, Folkerts said they look at any factor that may have played a role in the accident — in three main structures: The Man [pilot experience, training, medical issues, etc.]; The Machine [aircraft maintenance records, etc.]; and The Medium [air traffic control, weather conditions, environmental issues, etc.] Local and national FAA personnel are helping with the investigation along with representatives from the aircraft manufacturer and the company that owns the plane.
Folkerts said the crash occurred at 7:19 p.m. Saturday, January 8, 2022. The plane had departed from Spirit of St. Louis Airport at 7:10 p.m. and was on an instrument flight to Denver, Co. It was a Beech Baron twin-engine aircraft, manufactured in 1981, operated by AirNet II, LLC, on a positioning flight to Denver, Co. No passengers or cargo were on board.
The weather at Spirit of St. Louis was “instrument conditions” with 1000 feet overcast ceiling and cloud tops at about 9000 feet. After take-off, the plane reached an elevation of 8000 feet with a westwardly heading, then began a turn to the left with a descent. The ATC (Air Traffic Controller) queried the pilots about their heading and altitude, but there was not a response back to the ATC. The last data transmitted from the airplane was at 4,700 feet while it was in the left turn. The plane impacted into a wooded area at a high airspeed in a westwardly heading.
The crash site is in a wooded area, east of Hwy. F, across from the New Frontier Materials Quarry. It is not visible from the road nor easily accessible. Aerial photos of the accident were provided by St. Charles County Police.
Folkerts said in the coming days, investigators will continue to examine the plane at a recovery facility, including flight controls, engines, propellers and avionics (electronic systems). They will also assess the flight path, any pilot to ATC communications, weather conditions, including icing or turbulence. Folkerts said preliminary data on icing indicates the freezing level was about 12,000 feet at the time. The plane had reached an altitude of 8000 feet, so at this point, he does not expect icing to be a factor, but they will investigate further.
Investigators will also do an operational background assessment on the pilots to include flight training, experience, and a medical study including autopsy and toxicology reports; and a sound spectrum analysis will be done on doorbell video with audio acquired from a residence about ¼ mile from the crash site.
Folkerts said preliminary findings indicate that both engines were running as the plane descended. He confirmed there was no distress call from the pilots to the ATC. He said, “There were some communications that give the impression that there was an issue, but we need to assess those further.”
There was no black box on board. Folkerts said, “The Barron does not have a flight data recorder or a cockpit voice recorder. It did have ADS-B [Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast] which tracks flight parameters. Unfortunately, the last ADS-B data was transmitted at 4,700 feet.”
The plane landed in a wooded area and did not impact any structures on the ground. It was a very high-speed impact. The plane was very fragmented. There was no fire, which Folkerts attributed to the speed of the impact and the fact that it was raining. He said due to the fragmentation some components are going to be difficult to assess.
St. Charles County Police Chief Kurt Frisz talked about the search effort. He said to get a sense of direction of where the impact occurred, they needed citizen input and eyewitness accounts. Police canvassed the area, but because the terrain was very hilly, the weather was bad, there was no fire and very little tree damage, it was challenging to narrow down the exact location. Thermal imaging drones were brought in to assist but had difficulty staying in the air due to weather conditions. Ultimately it was a foot grid search that led to the discovery.
New Melle Fire Protection District had at least 15 personnel on the ground, plus crews from Wentzville and Augusta, Wright City and numerous County police and Missouri State Patrol officers assisted with the search. UTVs from New Melle, Cottleville, St. Charles County Ambulance and two private individuals were used in the search.
New Melle Fire Chief Dan Casey told the Boone Country Connection that at first, the thought was that the plane might have glided at a gradual descent back towards the airport, and so the search started across a larger area, then as citizen reports and more specific information became available from Air Traffic Control, they were able to tighten up the search area, but that process took a while. Once that smaller search area was determined, a ground grid search was implemented, with firefighters searching the woods on foot. “Fortunately,” he said, “within about 30 minutes of implementing the grid search, the crash site was found at 10:02 p.m.”
Casey said human remains were discovered immediately, and the crash was deemed unsurvivable. At that point, firefighters pulled back and secured the perimeter of the area, and CSI (Crime Scene Investigators) took control of the site.
Police Chief Kurt Frisz said, “It was through the assistance of local residents, our detective bureau, our crime scene investigators, the New Melle Fire Department and their folks, that the site was found and secured, and the St. Charles County Medical Examiner’s office could begin recovery and positive identification of victims.”
Photos courtesy of St. Charles County Police