Cockpit Fire Ruled Cause Of '89 Crash In Ferndale

Smoke Obscured Pilot's Vision, Ntsb Says

June 12, 1991|By John A. Morris | John A. Morris,Staff writer

A cockpit fire led to the July 1989 airplane crash in Ferndale that killed a 6-month-old infant and the 50-year-old pilot, a federal review board said yesterday.

The National Transportation Safety Board said the fire started under a side-control panel a few moments after the twin-engine Beechcraft cargo plane lifted off from Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

NTSB spokesman Allan Pollock said the board does not know what caused the fire. But investigators discovered a citizens band radio improperly connected to the aircraft's electrical system.

Pilot Benjamin S. Vitalini of Leroy, N.Y., radioed the control tower that he hadan emergency. As he circled back to land, witnesses on the ground reported seeing flames in the cockpit.

Vitalini was probably overcome by fumes and his vision obstructed by smoke, said the board, which has concluded its two-year investigation.

The plane grazed a lightpole in a shopping center, sliced a tree in half, then plunged into the basement of a house at 205 Longwood Ave. about 7:17 a.m. Fire engulfed the one-story brick rancher within seconds.

Vitalini, a pilot for Centre Airlines in Reedsville, Pa., died instantly.

The explosion and fire reduced the rancher to rubble, leaving only one cornerof the brick fireplace standing.

Henry and Janice Beam and three of their four sons escaped the inferno with minor injuries. But firefighters, after searching for more than three hours, found the body of6-month-old Paul Beam.

An inspector for the safety board examinedthe wreckage, aircraft maintenance records, the pilot's flight record and the company's background during the investigation, Pollock said. The agency responds to more than 2,500 crashes per year.

Although the safety board frequently makes recommendations based on its findings to prevent future accidents, yesterday's report to the Federal Aviation Administration contained none.

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