A Florida man heard the sounds of an airplane in distress and videotaped as it came spinning straight down into a heavily wooded preserve.
He is one of three witnesses cited in a preliminary report from the National Transportation Safety Board, which is investigating the June 7 crash that took the lives of six members of a prominent Kansas family. The report says the plane experienced an “in-flight breakup” near Lake Wales, Fla.
Ronald and Becky Bramlage and their four children — Brandon, 15; Boston, 13; Beau, 11; and 8-year-old Roxanne — were killed in the plane crash.
The report does not state a cause for the accident. A final report may take several months or a year. But it cites the observations of three people who saw or heard the events just before the crash about 12:35 p.m. as the family was returning home to Junction City after a trip to the Bahamas.
According to air traffic control communications with Miami, pilot Ronald Bramlage was attempting to avoid a large area of precipitation northwest of Lakeland, Fla., just before the crash. According to preliminary radar data, the plane climbed to 25,100 feet and changed direction to the right before it then descended to 10,700 feet in exactly one minute.
The pilot of a nearby plane reported hearing a mayday call about one minute before hearing the sound from the downed craft’s emergency locator signal.
A second witness, who was 1.5 nautical miles from the crash site, was inside his house when he heard what sounded like a plane in distress with “a whooshing high to low sound, followed by a sound he described as an energy release,” according to the NTSB preliminary report. “He was clear the sound he heard was not an explosion, but more like mechanical fracture of parts.”
The witness ran outside and saw the plane below the cloud ceiling, which was estimated to be at 10,000 feet.
“He noted that parts of the airplane were missing, but he did not see any parts separate from the airplane during the time he saw it,” the report states.
The witness ran to get a digital camera and videotaped the plane as it spun toward the ground. The witness called 911.
A third witness, who was less than half a mile from the crash site, reported hearing a boom that he said sounded like it came from a lawn mower, which he thought was odd because it had just been raining. Then he saw black smoke trailing from the spinning plane. The witness and his brother heard the thud of the crash and ran toward the site. When they got there, the front of the plane was on fire. One of the men tried throwing sand on the blazes to extinguish it but was unsuccessful.
The bodies of Bramlage, his wife and three of their children were recovered from the wreckage, about 50 miles southwest of Orlando. The body of Boston Bramlage was recovered the next day, less than half a mile from the site.
Investigators said sections of both wings as well as the horizontal stabilizer and elevator were separated from the fuselage.