NTSB Report Highlights Disturbing Details of Pilot's Fall

Agency says Ronald Snyder may have unlatched seatbelt to inspect aircraft, passenger was helpless
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 16, 2024 10:40 AM CDT
Passenger Was Helpless as Pilot Fell From Plane: NTSB
A Bearhawk Patrol plane like the one flown by Snyder. Armchair Aviator's, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons   (Wikimedia Commons)

Before a two-seater plane crashed near a Pennsylvania farm in 2022, its passenger sat by helplessly after the pilot fell out. That's according to a National Transportation Safety Board report released Wednesday, describing the crash of an "experimental amateur-built" Bearhawk Patrol plane near Pennsylvania's Hanover Township on Oct. 29, 2022, per NBC News. The crash killed the pilot, 76-year-old Ronald Snyder of Bernville, and a passenger, 59-year-old Michael Bowen of Jonestown. According to witnesses, Snyder fell from the aircraft and struck the plane's tail before he and the plane plummeted to the ground. The aircraft crashed just 100 feet from a hayride carrying children.

Witnesses saw Snyder fasten his seatbelt and shoulder harness before taking flight. But the equipment was found unlatched and undamaged, which "suggests that he intentionally unbuckled his seatbelt during the short flight," according to the report. It suggests Snyder intended to look at an issue with the plane's rigging. Snyder had previously noticed an issue that caused the plane to "kick" laterally when turning; a friend who took the plane on a short flight similarly reported an "odd yawing." It's likely Snyder either fell from the plane or "displaced a flight control," causing "an abrupt pitching moment that ejected him from the airplane," the report reads, per NBC. Witnesses on the ground reported seeing the plane "roll" and "buck" as the nose dipped, then came up quickly.

Snyder's impact with the plane "resulted in substantial damage to the tail section and a subsequent loss of control during flight from which the pilot-rated passenger would not have been able to recover," the report reads, per the New York Post. The plane, which had reached 1,700 feet of elevation after departing Wilkes-Barre Wyoming Valley Airport, dropped quickly, descending 400 feet in less than two seconds, the report notes. Investigators found no evidence of mechanical issues with the engine. Snyder had only "non-impairing" medication in his system, the report said. His body was found about 500 feet from the wreckage. Bowen went down with the plane. (More plane crash stories.)

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