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Witnesses: Plane drifted before crash

A preliminary report sheds little light on what caused the crash in Memphis that killed a Tampa neurosurgeon.

Published July 12, 2003

Seconds before the airplane piloted by Tampa neurosurgeon David Cahill crashed in Memphis, two witnesses said, it drifted to the left, away from its assigned runway, and tilted in ways not consistent with a normal landing.

The twin-engine, six-seat Beechcraft Baron then flipped and crashed upside down, killing Cahill and front seat passenger John Murphy of Pensacola.

Two passengers behind Cahill, Ed Brown and Chip Lomell, both of Tampa, were badly injured. They were in serious condition in theMemphis Regional Medical Center on Friday.

The witness accounts, contained in the National Transportation Safety Board's preliminary report on the accident, gave no clue to what might have caused the crash July 2.

The landing gear was down and locked, the plane had 40 to 50 gallons of fuel, the weather was fine, Cahill did not indicate he was having problems - in all, the landing attempt was normal up to the last minute.

Then, according to a pilot who was taxiing in an airplane nearby, the Baron "descended to approximately 10 to 15 feet above the runway, and it appeared to begin to drift to the left."

According to the NTSB, the witness said the airplane's nose moved to the left, then pitched up. The aircraft did a snap roll, flipping onto its back before it hit the ground.

The Baron had been assigned to runway 36-Right and wound up in the grass between that runway and 36-Center.

Another witness, in an observation tower, described events somewhat differently. The witness said the aircraft appeared to be off the left edge of its assigned runway during its descent and to nose straight down toward the ground as it turned left before it crashed.

Both witnesses said they saw no other aircraft near the Baron.

Debris from the crash was scattered along a path 187 feet long and 57 feet wide.

Investigators found paint smears and two series of propeller slash marks in the concrete of a taxiway.

A final report pinpointing the cause of the crash could take a year.

[Last modified July 12, 2003, 02:03:26]

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