A report pinpointing the cause of a plane crash last week that resulted in the death of the pilot of a 1967 Piper Cherokee Arrow aircraft in Auburn Township is not expected for another eight months or more. The Federal Aviation Administration is the lead investigator along with the National Transportation Safety Board on the May 29 crash in which Middlefield resident and pilot Troy Bankert, 55, died, according to authorities.
Auburn Assistant Fire Chief Michael Cardaman, who served as incident commander at the scene, said the site probe is all but complete, but it will be awhile before the final report is written and released. “The NTSB and the FAA wrapped up their work on Friday,” he said, when they were finished at the scene. Assistant Chief Cardaman said he will be giving a debriefing on the incident.
The plane crash investigation was the result of many working together with local fire departments and other agencies putting in long hours after the call came in at about 4 a.m., he said. The pilot was later found deceased with the wreckage of the Piper plane in a wooded area off Shaw Road. He was flying from the Wayne County Airport to the Middlefield Airport, investigators said.
Auburn Fire Chief John Phillips said, “All the agencies worked really well together.” He was on scene during the search event and a command post was set up at the LaDue Reservoir boat house on Valley Road.
The Auburn Fire Department has dealt with three other incidents involving aircrafts over the years. “This is the fourth one we’ve had,” Chief Phillips said. There was one off Auburn Road and one at Stafford Road. Both involved fatalities, he said. An ultralight aircraft also went down at Shaw Road and Route 422, he said.
“It was a real learning experience,” Assistant Chief Cardaman said of the event at LaDue Reservoir and the fire department’s involvement. “We don’t deal with an aviation crash often.”
The Ohio State Highway Patrol took the initial report and were first to respond, holding the scene, with the FAA taking over the full investigation. The Geauga County Sheriff’s deputies were also on site.
“We started the search and rescue with boats,” Assistant Chief Cardaman said. “Auburn, Troy, Newbury and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and the Division of Water Craft were there.” Bainbridge Fire Department was on standby to answer any calls to the Auburn Fire Department. Garrettsville Fire Department sent manpower as well.
A friend of the pilot was using a smart phone app to track the flight from Wayne County to Geauga and alerted authorities when the plane seemingly disappeared from the device. The app helped rescuers determine that the plane was not in the water and that was helpful, Assistant Chief Cardaman said.
South Russell Police Officer Todd Pocek led the Valley Enforcement Group’s drone team and the drone actually found the wreckage. The drone gave them exact coordinates on the location of the plane and it radioed to everyone that the site had been located, Assistant Chief Cardaman said.
A Geauga Park District ranger and a highway patrol officer had dogs that did property searches.
Getting back to the plane in the woods was then a challenge because of the rough terrain. “We used area fire departments’ ATVs to transport the state troopers, law enforcement and equipment to the site,” he said. “Chain saws were used to cut down the trees along the way.” The ATVs were provided by a number of fire departments including Auburn, Chagrin Falls, Russell, Troy, Hiram and Mantua and Farmington Fire Department.
The Geauga County EMA was on the scene as well. “For a big incident, things came together very well,” Assistant Chief Cardaman said.
The manufacturer of the 1967 Piper Cherokee Arrow plane Mr. Bankert was piloting came out to the scene as did the engine manufacturer, he said. “They all worked together,” he noted, adding that the Geauga County Coroner was also on the scene.
The plane was destroyed, according to Assistant Chief Cardaman. The salvage crew was picking up the pieces of the Piper which were found along with the pilot’s remains on the south side of the reservoir off Shaw Road. It was on property owned by the city of Akron.
Auburn firefighter Keith Blaser is skilled in rope rescue techniques and he helped rig a system to lift the aircraft pieces off the ground, according to Assistant Chief Cardaman. An investigation took place at the site. After that, “they picked up every piece of the plane including nuts and bolts. They had a specialized vehicle to take the aircraft out,” he said.
Geauga County Sheriff Scott Hildenbrand said the investigation has now been turned over to the FAA and NSBT. “It could be a year,” he said before it is finalized.
There were about 10 of his deputies at the scene, from start to finish. “We gave the state patrol and the fire department a hand where needed. We helped people assigned to the drone team and notified family members,” Sheriff Hildenbrand said. There were three or four family members at the scene.
“The most important thing is giving closure to the family,” Assistant Chief Cardaman said.
His son, Mike Cardaman Jr., 16, and a fire cadet with Auburn Fire Department, assisted his father.
“It’s been a group effort,” Assistant Chief Cardaman said. “We put all our resources into this.” The fire station was open providing food to the investigators. The Troy Township Fire Department Fire Angels provided much of the food to rescue crews as did Sirna’s restaurant in Auburn.