Autopilot Implicated In Aussie Crash

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The Australian Transportation Safety Board says it suspects a malfunctioning autopilot is to blame for the events leading to an in-flight breakup of an Aero Commander in Tasmania in February of 2004. The board's report says the plane, flown by a 21-year-old pilot who was ferrying it from Hobart to Davenport, suddenly lost altitude and, in the subsequent dive, both wings and the empennage came off. The wings were found more than a kilometer from the main crash site. The ATSB said it could not conclusively pin the crash blame on the autopilot but said the evidence points that way. Tasair pilot Heather Anne Cochrane was the only one aboard the airplane. The ATSB said she was healthy and fully qualified for the flight. The plane was at about 8,500 feet when it suddenly dropped. Investigators believe the plane came apart after falling about 5,000 feet.