The National Transportation Safety Board has released a preliminary report on the plane crash the night of Dec. 7 that claimed the life of skydiving company owner Catherine “Cathy” Kloess soon after takeoff from the Statesboro-Bulloch County Airport.
As a preliminary report, the five-page document, which can be found on a searchable database at www.ntsb.gov, does not attempt to determine a cause of the crash. But it quotes several witnesses who saw and heard Kloess’ airplane, a four-seat, single-engine Cessna 182, at various points as it took off, turned in a tightening circle, climbed to an altitude of about 1,800 feet and rapidly descended to crash in a field about two miles south of the airport.
Although the NTSB investigative team reports finding no record that a flight plan was filed with the Federal Aviation Administration’s system, they also note that a family member who talked to Kloess the evening of the accident said she had flown from Florida to Statesboro for a meeting and planned to return that night.
Actually, the report never refers to Kloess by name, instead identifying her only as “the pilot.” But as
previously reported here, Kloess, 61, of Zephyrhills, Florida, owned The Jumping Place Skydiving Center, which operated out of the Statesboro airport for about nine years. Since the Bulloch County Board of Commissioners had terminated the company’s lease of hangar space in early October, Kloess had sought to have it reinstated. She spoke to the commissioners on that topic approximately one hour into their 5:30 p.m. public meeting the evening of the crash.
Less than three hours after the meeting ended, she took off, alone in the plane, at 9:21 p.m. and crashed about three and a half minutes later, since the last radar position recorded was 9:24:32 p.m., when the plane was 575 feet up and a tenth of a mile from the point of impact.
The report acknowledges that Kloess was licensed as a commercial pilot, qualified for instrument flights and had reported a total of 4,000 flight hours, including 200 hours within the last six months as of a Dec. 3, 2020, medical examination as a pilot.
Using data from the satellite-based Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast system, the NTSB report describes the plane’s path and even includes a mapped illustration. Shortly after takeoff, the plane turned south, climbed to about 1,000 feet, and then entered a left turn.
“The airplane continued in a left 360 (degree) tightening turn” to a maximum altitude of about 1,800 feet “followed by a rapid descent,” the report states.
A witness at the airport parking lot saw the takeoff and said that the plane’s lights were on, and it sounded as if were “climbing ‘steeply,’ and the engine noise was loud,” according to the report.
Two more witnesses, who had been outside in a driveway near the final seconds of flight, reported seeing the plane. One said she “heard a low-flying airplane that sounded like a ‘crop duster,’ and ‘got louder,’” and that she saw the right side of the plane as “it appeared to be flying in a ‘curved’ descent’ that continued into a ‘rapid descent,’” the report states. Another witness, asked if the plane had been on fire in the air, said it was not.
Two other witnesses reported hearing the airplane while in their houses. One, a private pilot who noted that he was accustomed to hearing planes because of the proximity of the airport, said the plane sounded “unusually low” and then “like ‘the engine was screaming’ as if the ‘throttle was through the panel.’” The final witness, near the crash site, reported that she heard an engine noise until a “thud” was heard.
NTSB Senior Air Safety Investigator Adam Gerhardt, when he who spoke to reporters the day after the crash, accurately predicted that the preliminary report would be ready in about 10 days. But he also said that a final report typically takes 12 to 18 months to complete. Gerhardt, Rodney Hood from the FAA in Atlanta and Andrew Hall from Cessna manufacturer Textron Aviation in Wichita, Kansas, constitute the team that filed the preliminary report.