The weather was clear and Vlado Lenoch’s P-51 D Mustang was soaring high in aerobatic stunts moments before it crashed, killing the veteran pilot and a passenger near Atchison on July 16, according to a preliminary National Transportation Safety Board report released Tuesday.
Lenoch, 64, had performed in his vintage World War II plane, named the Baby Duck, the night before at the Amelia Earhart Festival. He was preparing to fly home the next morning when he gave Bethany Root, 34, the manager of the Amelia Earhart Memorial Airport, a ride before he left.
“The airplane was observed performing aerobatics at a high altitude,” the NTSB report said, citing several witnesses.
Another witness, who watched the plane from south of Kansas 59 in Atchison County, saw the plane swoop down low, 25 to 30 feet above the ground. “The plane pitched up to climb in a near vertical attitude and then the nose turned to the left and the airplane turned and pitched down in a nose low attitude,” the report said.
“The airplane descended towards terrain and just prior to impacting the ground the tail of the airplane came up,” the report said.
The airplane hit the ground just short of a grove of trees, leaving a large crater. Debris was scattered more than 400 feet from the initial impact point, the report said.
The plane had left the airport about 10:05 a.m. and crashed at 10:20 a.m.
The investigation is ongoing and a final report may take as long as a year, an NTSB spokesman said.