Two fatal 2012 crashes due to human mistakes, NTSB finds

Airplane and balloon accident investigations finished

jgaines@macon.comJanuary 17, 2013 

Pilot errors caused the fatal crash of a Cessna airplane flown by a Macon hospital executive in January 2012 and a March hot-air balloon crash in Fitzgerald that killed a North Carolina man, according to just-released probable cause reports from the National Transportation Safety Board.

On Jan. 27, 2012, Coliseum Health System CEO Allen Golson and his wife, Carol, flew from Macon to Ocala, Fla., to meet a real estate agent in their search for a new house. Golson, 55, had agreed to become CEO of Ocala Health Systems. He bought the Cessna 340A just a month earlier, but he previously owned a similar plane, according to a friend who is also a flight instructor.

The Golsons’ flight became bumpy as they descended to land at Ocala International Airport, said Carol Golson, who was in the rear cabin and survived the ensuing crash. She remembered the plane lurching to the left twice and two warning sirens going off. Conditions were clear with slight wind gusts, according to the final report.

About 12:27 p.m. the plane crashed into a flat livestock pasture, two-thirds of a mile short of the runway. It skidded 86 feet and caught fire, the crash analysis said.

“The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident to be: The pilot’s failure to maintain adequate airspeed and altitude on final approach,” the report concludes.

Investigators found no mechanical problems with the plane. The landing gear appeared to be retracting when the Cessna crashed, suggesting that Golson was trying to rise for another attempt, the report states. He made no distress calls to flight controllers.

Medical examiners said Golson, who had more than 1,000 hours of flight time, was killed by the fire. He had no drugs or alcohol in his system, according to the report.

Likewise, investigators decided 63-year-old Edward Ristaino of North Carolina apparently was at fault in the March 16 balloon crash that killed him near Fitzgerald.

“The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident to be: The pilot’s intentional flight into adverse weather,” the report concludes. “Contributing to the accident was the pilot’s failure to obtain a weather briefing and his failure to follow the balloon manufacturer’s published emergency procedure for weather deterioration during flight.”

About 7 p.m. that day, Ristaino was piloting a FireFly 8 balloon on its third flight of the day. He took off with seven parachutists on board, and the balloon was followed by a ground crew. The local emergency management director warned them of a sudden severe storm, and Ristaino told the parachutists to jump.

They did, and landed unhurt. But Ristaino then told the ground crew he would try to climb over the storm, the report states.

But he soon ran into high winds and inch-wide hail.

“Around 12,000 feet, the pilot again repeated, ‘I don’t think I’m going to get over this thing,’” investigators wrote.

Ristaino, who had a commercial pilot certificate for hot-air balloons and had logged 1,108 hours of flight experience, crashed in the woods.

“A review of archived data revealed that the pilot did not obtain a weather briefing from either a flight service station briefer or a commercial vendor on the day of the accident,” investigators wrote in their report.

The balloon was found almost four days later, and the sheriff who led the search said it still bore large clumps of hail stones when found. In addition to punctures from the trees, the balloon fabric had two tears about 110 feet long and two more about 12 feet long. The balloon was made in 2007 and had flown for 114 hours, the report stated. It was last inspected March 10, 2011, and had flown only a few hours since then.

To contact writer Jim Gaines, call 744-4489.

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