The pilot of a single-engine plane that crashed at Tipton Airport, killing him and his passenger, failed to get flight clearance before takeoff, according to a preliminary investigation report.
An employee of the airport in western Anne Arundel County told the pilot, Daniel L. Eberhardt, 57, of Downers Grove, Ill., after he filed his flight plan Oct. 19 that he needed a special code before heading into restricted airspace on his trip home, the National Transportation Safety Board said in the report released this week.
That code would have been put into a transponder, alerting air traffic controllers that he was allowed to fly into the Air Defense Identification Zone.
But Eberhardt, a certified commercial pilot with 3,800 hours of flight time, took off about 3:40 p.m. without the code and attempted to get it during the flight. He reported at about 3:42 p.m. that he was "squawking 1200," meaning he didn't have the code, the report said.
A controller told Eberhardt that he was "violating ADIZ" and had to "land at Tipton immediately ... and call us on the phone for your clearance."
Eberhardt agreed and began heading back to the airport, making no more contact with the controller.
A witness told the NTSB that the "airplane had quite a bit of speed and entered a steep, rapidly descending turn to the left. As the airplane continued the turn onto final approach, it was right of the runway center line and too low."
Seconds later, at 3:45 p.m., the 1987 Piper PA-46-310P crashed into a clearing near the runway, killing Eberhardt and his companion, Bobbi Getz, 56, of Pittsburgh. Fire consumed much of the aircraft.
The plane's engine and airframe did not malfunction before impact, according to the report. A more in-depth report will take a few months, and a full investigation to determine the cause of the crash could take a year and a half, said Keith Holloway, a spokesman for the NTSB.
Kathryn Fitzpatrick, a spokeswoman for the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, said that ADIZ "is very difficult airspace, and it can be confusing to follow proper procedures for a pilot."
Special restrictions apply to the general aviation pilots who fly in and out of Tipton Airport because it is near the nation's capital.
Pilots need to be transmitting a discreet transponder code so that air traffic controllers can track the aircraft, Fitzpatrick said.
"They have to file a flight plan and activate a transponder code. It's like one additional step," she said. "Ideally, [the pilot] would have to have the code before he left the ground."