FORT WAYNE, Ind. (AP) – A Fort Wayne pilot was attempting an instrument approach to a northern Michigan airport and might have stalled his plane’s engine before the aircraft crashed, killing himself and his wife and leaving his standout high school basketball player son in a medically induced coma, a newspaper reported Saturday.
A preliminary report by the National Transportation Safety Board doesn’t state a cause for the June 24 crash that killed Dr. Stephen Hatch, 46, and his wife, Kim, 44, The Journal Gazette reported. An expert told the newspaper that Hatch may have stalled the engine while circling for a second approach.
The crash critically injured Austin Hatch, a University of Michigan basketball recruit who remained hospitalized Saturday in Traverse City, Mich. Surviving family members posted a note online Friday saying his condition is improving and doctors have begun bringing him out of his coma.
The Canterbury High School junior and his father also survived a 2003 plane crash near Fort Wayne that killed the boy’s mother, a sister and a brother.
The NTSB report said Stephen Hatch told Charlevoix Municipal Airport that he was executing a GPS approach to the 4,550-foot runway. Witnesses said the cloud ceiling was 200 feet about ground level and visibility was 1 mile. Hatch’s Beechcraft A36 broke out of the clouds about halfway down the runway, and Indianapolis-based flight instructor Preston Wulfenspein told the newspaper that the pilot “obviously descended below what that approach allowed.”
“It seems as though he was either disoriented or confident enough where he thought he could descend below the minimums,” said Wulfenspein, a certified flight instrument instructor. “He did, but it was not the right thing to do. It was poor decision making.”
The plane’s engine then increased power, the report said, before making a left turn and a turn back to the right around a water tower.
“From what I gathered, he stalled the aircraft trying to turn back to the runway,” said Wulfenspein, who reviewed the NTSB report.
The report said the plane began a right turn toward the runway, pitch nose up and then rolled to the left, movements that are “a byproduct of stalling in uncoordinated flight,” Wulfenspein said.
The plane then hit a yard adjacent to the north perimeter of the airport and came to rest in a garage.
The NTSB said a final report could take more than a year to release.
Austin Hatch suffered a serious head injury, a punctured lung and fractures to his ribs and collarbone. A journal entry dated Friday, written by “Hatch Family” and posted on the website CaringBridge.org said it was encouraged by his progress.
“He has remained stable, and notable improvements include movement to withdraw from pain and improved breathing function. Doctors have begun the gradual process of reducing his medications. As he slowly begins the `waking up’ process, we ask for your continued prayers,” the entry said.
A memorial service for Stephen and Kim Hatch is scheduled for Wednesday at Blackhawk Christian Ministries in Fort Wayne.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)