NTSB Releases Preliminary Report On Connell Crash

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The NTSB has released its preliminary report on the Piper Turbo Saratoga crash on approach to Akron-Canton airport Dec. 19, 2008, that killed Michael Connell, Republican media consultant and chief IT consultant for Karl Rove. The crash ignited the minds of conspiracy theorists aware that Connell had been subpoenaed for expert testimony regarding alleged electronic voter fraud in 2004, and amid one report by a CBS affiliate that Connell had been warned his plane might be sabotaged. The NTSB's early findings are subject to change and may contain errors but state that "no anomalies were noted with the flight control system that would have precluded normal operation." The report notes that damage to the propeller is consistent with a power-on impact and the landing gear was extended. The NTSB found that the instrument-rated Connell had received radar vectors that provided an intercept to the ILS approach for Runway 23, about two miles from the outer marker. The report states that, as the plane was inbound from the outer marker, "ATC advised [the aircraft] that it was left of course." After that, things -- including already poor weather conditions -- got progressively worse.

Connell responded to ATC with "correcting." The report states he was at that time still flying the 3,200-foot intermediate segment altitude for the approach. ATC then advised the pilot he was "well left of the localizer" and asked the pilot if he would like to be resequenced. The pilot responded with "like to correct" and at 2.5 miles from the airport asked to execute a 360-degree turn. Weather at the airport at this time was deteriorating. It was reported two minutes prior to the crash as visibility 9 miles, broken at 500 and overcast at 1,000 with a two-degree temperature/dewpoint spread hovering near freezing. Approximately 15 minutes after the crash, visibility had dropped to 2 1/2 miles in mist with overcast at 400 and 1,000. While flying the approach, Connell had inquired about reports of icing and ATC responded it had none. After requesting the 360-degree turn, ATC directed the aircraft to climb and maintain 3,000 feet. Connell responded, providing confirmation and a heading, then declared an emergency. A witness saw the aircraft descend out of the clouds in a nose-down attitude with the engine "roaring" and lost visual contact when the plane descended below the tree line. The trail of wreckage was about 290 feet long. Connell earned his private certificate in 2006, held an instrument rating, and had a total reported flight time of 510 hours.