A 2012 plane crash that killed six members of a prominent Kansas family probably was caused by the inexperience of the pilot, Ronald Bramlage, according to a new report.
The National Transportation Safety Board said earlier this week that Bramlage purchased the turboprop plane about five weeks before the crash that killed him, his wife and their four children. The plane went down June 7, 2012, in Florida as the family was returning home to Junction City from a trip to the Bahamas.
A statement of probable cause from the National Transportation Safety Board found that the crash near Lake Wales, Fla., occurred after the plane’s autopilot disengaged and Bramlage could not maintain control of the aircraft.
The report said Bramlage had completed ground and simulator training for the aircraft and had logged about 14 hours of flight time as pilot-in-command of the plane.
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“Although the pilot likely met the minimum qualification standards to act as pilot-in-command by federal aviation regulations, his lack of experience in the make and model airplane was evidenced by the fact that he did not maintain control of the airplane after the autopilot disengaged,” the report stated.
Bramlage had been a pilot since 1994 and obtained his instrument rating in 1997. But the NTSB report said that prior to purchasing the 2006 single-engine Pilatus PC-12/47 aircraft, he had not logged any time as pilot-in-command of a turbo-propeller plane. He had not logged any instrument flight time for more than seven years, the report said.
During its descent from more than 25,000 feet, the plane was traveling at 338 knots, which is more than twice as fast as the maximum operating maneuvering speed, the NTSB reported. A nearby pilot reported hearing a mayday call.
Bramlage took steps that placed stress on both wings, the report said. Part of the right wing broke off and punched a hole in the fuselage, causing 13-year-old Boston Bramlage to be ejected from the plane.
Witnesses on the ground saw the plane trailing black smoke and spinning straight down into a field in a wilderness preserve about 50 miles southwest of Orlando. When the first witnesses arrived at the crash site, the front of the plane was on fire. The crash also killed Becky Bramlage, 15-year-old Brandon, 11-year-old Beau and 8-year-old Roxanne. Boston’s body was recovered the next day less than half a mile from the crash site.
Ronald Bramlage, 45, was the grandson of Fred Bramlage, the namesake of Bramlage Coliseum at Kansas State University. He was the owner of Roadside Ventures LLC of Junction City. The plane was registered to the company. Becky Bramlage, 43, grew up in Johnson County and served on the Junction City school board. The family’s memorial service drew more than 2,000 people.
The family had stopped for customs in Fort Pierce, Fla. They took off again just after noon with a forecast of light to moderate icing conditions that were well within the aircraft’s capability, the NTSB said. About half an hour into the flight, while climbing to the assigned altitude, Bramlage activated deicing procedures.
The plane was cleared by controllers in Miami to deviate from its course to avoid bad weather. About four seconds into the turn, the autopilot disengaged “for undetermined reasons,” the report said.
The NTSB concluded the probable cause of the accident to be “the failure of the pilot to maintain control of the airplane while climbing to cruise altitude in instrument meteorological conditions (IMC) following disconnect of the autopilot. …Contributing to the accident was the pilot’s lack of experience in high-performance, turbo-propeller airplanes and in IMC.”