Plane’s transmitter
lacked power

A disconnected battery would
prevent distress signals from being sent

By Gary T. Kubota

WAILUKU >> Search crews may have been unable to receive distress signals from an airplane that crashed killing four people on Maui because the battery was separated from the transmitter, according to a federal investigator.

"That could be a possible reason," National Transportation Safety Board investigator Tealeye Cornejo said yesterday.

Cornejo said that when she arrived at the crash site, she found the battery was not connected to the emergency locator transmitter, a device that is supposed to send off a distress signal when the airplane crashes.

"I found the battery was in the cockpit," she said.

The single-engine Cessna Cardinal 177 took off from Kahului Airport at about 2 p.m. on July 13 with pilot Stephen Betsill and three of his relatives taking an air tour.

Betsill flew under clear skies to Molokai, then to Lahaina and back to the Valley Isle with the last radio transmission at 4:16 p.m. at Keanae in east Maui, family members said.

A U.S. Coast Guard airplane and county and private helicopter crews did not detect signals from the emergency locator transmitter and searched until the morning of July 15, when one of Betsill's relatives saw the airplane in the forest in Nahiku.

Anton Stammberger, a former co-owner of the airplane, said the emergency locator transmitter is within the tail section and could have ended up in the cockpit in a crash if it was not secured "totally down."

"The battery could have flown off the ELT," Stammberger said.

A preliminary report about the crash should be available by the end of this week, according to the NTSB.

Federal officials said the initial investigation has found no indication of fuel contamination or a lack of fuel as factors contributing to the crash.

Cornejo said a preliminary examination found the airplane engine was working and capable of producing power.

She said the investigation has not been narrowed to anything specific.

"We're looking into all aspects of the accident," she said.

Safety Board spokeswoman Lauren Peduzzi said the investigator is still awaiting radar information to determine the exact route of the airplane and a toxicological report about the pilot will take several weeks because of laboratory tests required in Oklahoma City.

She said investigators completed an examination of the wreckage Friday but were continuing to examine document and conduct interviews.

Federal Aviation Administration officials said Betsill had received his pilot certification in October to fly by visual flight rules and was working on his certification to fly by instrument.

Those killed in the crash included Betsill, 47, sales and marketing manager of Betsill Brothers Construction Inc.; his cousin Jerry Betsill, 44, an attorney who lives in Forth Worth, Texas; Jerry's daughter Emma, 11; and Jerry's grandniece Merideth Fenimore, 10.

E-mail to City Desk


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