The lack of a distress call and flight data recorder coupled with mangled and charred wreckage will make finding the cause of a fiery airplane crash in Louisiana extremely challenging, federal officials said Sunday.
National Transportation Safety Board Vice Chairman Bruce Landsberg said at a press conference that it could take 12 to 18 months to figure out why the two-engine Piper Cheyenne fell from the sky about a minute after taking off from the Lafayette Regional Airport on Saturday.
The plane crashed near a post office and caught fire in seconds, leaving the ground littered with burning wreckage. Five of the six people on board were killed. The plane was en route to the Peach Bowl playoff game in Atlanta between LSU and Oklahoma. Among those killed was sports broadcaster Carley McCord, the daughter-in-law of LSU coach Steven Ensminger.
“We’ll be looking very carefully at the pilot's qualifications, the training that they had, medical certification and also the history on the aircraft and its maintenance records,” Landsberg said. “We have two videos that have been turned into us, and we will be analyzing those.”
Landsberg said that he walked to the crash site on Sunday morning and found debris scattered about a quarter of a mile.
It was a "very sobering situation,” he said.
Investigators said much of the aircraft was crushed and consumed by fire after it crashed. NTSB officials said they know of no distress calls made by the pilot or of the existence of a flight data recorder.
“The avionics equipment on board the aircraft was pretty badly damaged," Landsberg said. “There is no flight data recorder that we know of at this time. We’ll obviously be looking at that, but at this point there’s not a lot to go on."
The airplane climbed to 900 feet, then descended to 700 feet — a dangerously low altitude in the area, Landsberg said.
The plane went down in a part of the city with a scattering of banks, fast food chains and other businesses. Three people on the ground were also hurt. Local authorities identified the sole survivor from the plane as a 37-year-old man. He was hospitalized but his condition was not immediately known.
Lafayette is the fourth-largest city in Louisiana with a population of about 130,000, according to the 2018 census. It is located about 135 miles west of New Orleans.