Anatomy of a Crash

The real trouble for Cecil A. Murray started a few minutes after taking off in Cessna 421 on April 17, 2009.

Murray, who’s exchanges with the control tower are calm at first, quickly becomes gripped with what sounds like panic or fear. After requesting to come back and land, Murray is assigned a runway. But after a few short moments, the reality of his situation grips him.

“I’m having some trouble here, I’m going to have to come around and land,” Murray radios in.

“Number 3 5 gulf, enter right downwind runway 8,” responds ground control.

Following a brief  silence, ground control states “number 3 5 gulf, any runway.” This is when you know something is terribly wrong. This is a point of desperation. Usually ground control picks open runways where wind is most helpful. Any runways is an attempt to just get the plane on the ground.

Then comes what is the hardest part of the tape to listen to. The props get louder as they spin faster, which means the plan is gaining speed from heading towards the ground. After a few quick shallow breaths, the last transmission of Murray is heard, a simple, scared yelp.

At 14:26 of the ground control tape, you can hear an air traffic controller in the background yell, “oh! fire.” From there out, the voice of the air traffic controller speaking on the radio rises slightly in pitch, his words quicken and bated as you can only guess what is going through his mind as the reality of the accident sets in.

The fire department is called to the scene, but it is too late for Murray.

Murray was 80 years old, but was up to date on all the medical requirements of the Federal Aviation Administration.  In fact, according to the preliminary FAA report, at the time of the crash, “the pilot reported a total flight experience of 23,000 hours. The pilot’s wife reported that he had approximately 5,000 hours of flight experience in the accident airplane.”

The official reason for the crash is still unknown. According to the FAA, several witness saw flames coming out of one of the engines shortly after takeoff. And before even taxing out, it seemed like the pilot was trouble shooting his engine.

The preliminary accident report also states that Murray usually flew in from Costa Rica for a few weeks every year and this time around, he was trying to sell the airplane. Was simply impatient and wanting to get back home what caused Murray to ignore obvious signs that his plane was in trouble? Would a more cautious pilot decided against taking off? Possibly. But that kind of speculation doesn’t undo the accident, however it can help prevent future ones.

If your airplane seems to be having troubles, be patient, call a mechanic. This doesn’t have to apply to just pilots. If your car isn’t quite running right, don’t take it out on the highway. In any part of life, ignoring obvious signs of danger is a sure way to ensure you will be in an accident.

A slidshow of the house the plane crashed into can be found here.

  1. eelnivek said:

    I’m curious as to you heard about Cecil A. Murray and his situation. Great post, I especially like the pacing at the start, really grabs you by the collar and judo flips you to the ground.

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