NTSB: Pilot had reported engine oil pressure problems

mstucka@macon.comMay 28, 2013 

Authorities spent much of Tuesday removing wreckage from the site of a single-engine plane crash that killed two men in south Bibb County on Memorial Day.

Officials loaded the plane’s engine onto the back of a trailer. An investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board was at the site, but he was waiting for the wreckage to be retrieved from a swamp so he could begin inspecting and documenting the damage, said Keith Holloway, a spokesman for the board.

The pilot had reported engine oil pressure problems, the agency said. Unofficial radar records show that in just two minutes the airplane fell 4,900 feet -- nearly a mile -- at a rate of about 40 feet per second.

The men killed in the wreck were tentatively identified as Anthony Cabeza, 58, of Greer, S.C., and Julius Gilreath, 71, of Greenville, S.C.

Bibb County Coroner Leon Jones said he expects autopsies will be performed Wednesday or Thursday.

An Anthony “Tony” Cabeza is listed on LinkedIn as a corporate pilot and the owner of Pilot Services in Greenville.

The airplane, a Piper PA-32R-300, was first authorized to fly in 1976. Owned by a company in Greenville, it crashed about 1 mile northeast of Robins Air Force Base around 6:05 p.m. Monday, according to Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen.

The flight took off with two people on board from Apalachicola Regional Airport in Apalachicola, Fla., and was headed for Greenville Downtown Airport in Greenville, S.C.

The Bibb County Sheriff’s Office got a call from Houston County 911 about 6:20 p.m. Monday saying that a plane had gone down near the Houston-Bibb line off Ga. 247 near Feagin Road.

Cabeza became licensed as an airline transport pilot nine years ago. He was licensed as a flight instructor 21 years ago.

The plane crashed in a swampy area off St. Clara Drive near Zora Place. The location is roughly in line, and equally distant, from runways at Robins Air Force Base and the Middle Georgia Regional Airport.

It took nearly three hours for crews to get the bodies out of the plane.

The radar tracking information, provided by Flight­Aware.com, suggests that the aircraft had been flying at 9,000 feet at 5:50 p.m. moving northeast. By 5:56 p.m., the plane was just 500 feet above the ground and moving west. A minute later, its direction changed to southeast, and the location never changed again.

At one point, the aircraft reached 191 knots, or 220 miles per hour relative to the ground, according to the FlightAware data. It wasn’t immediately clear Tuesday what the maximum allowed speed of the plane is.

FlightAware records show that in the last month the plane had made six trips to Apalachiola Regional Airport, which is in the middle of the Florida panhandle.

Joe Frasher, director of the Greenville Downtown Airport, said both Cabeza and Gilreath were well-respected men who did good work behind the scenes. He’d known Cabeza for a decade.

“I don’t know what happened to the airplane, but I’m sure it was something beyond his control, because he was a very good pilot,” Frasher said. “I know many people who used his services and would fly only with him.”

Frasher said Gilreath was a philanthropist and a partial owner of the airplane.

“He’s been very good to a lot of people,” Frasher said.

Holloway said the NTSB will collect information, such as the aircraft’s maximum speed and any recordings of communications with air traffic control.

While on-scene investigation work is typically completed within a few days, a full accident report typically takes 12 to 18 months, Holloway said.

Telegraph staffers Liz Fabian and Jason Vorhees contributed to this report.

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