The flight was supposed to be an introductory lesson, showing the returning student the basics of handling the controls and monitoring gauges while in flight. But something went wrong.
Instructor Dennis Rumley and student Brent Abshier took a single-engine Cessna airplane up for the first flight in a required 40-hour training but crashed into a field near County Line and Combs roads in Greenwood about 10:45 a.m. Tuesday.
Students get to take over the controls even on that first flight but would be limited to basic maneuvers such as keeping the plane level or executing a turn, said Tom Jeffries, owner of Jeff Air Pilot Services flight school, which leases the plane that crashed and employs Rumley.
Jeffries isn’t exactly sure what Rumley, 65, and Abshier, 38, were doing because he hadn’t talked to Rumley but said the instructor would have taken over immediately if they ran into any problems in the air.
The 38-year-old plane was in the air for about 30 minutes before the crash landing less than two miles from Greenwood Municipal Airport, Jeffries said. Rumley did not radio any messages before the crash, so whatever problem occurred likely happened suddenly and didn’t leave time to radio to the airport, which is typically what pilots would do if they had a mechanical problem or emergency, Jeffries added.
Rumley told Greenwood police Tuesday the engine wasn’t producing enough revolutions per minute to maintain airspeed. Based on the information he’s heard about the crash, Jeffries said, the incident was likely caused by a mechanical issue that wouldn’t have been seen during checks conducted before takeoff.
“Sometimes there are occasions where you do everything you can do and it doesn’t work, and I’m assuming that’s what happened,” Jeffries said.
Both men were taken to hospitals after the crash and were treated and released Tuesday.
The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating what happened but doesn’t comment on ongoing investigations, spokesman Tony Molinaro said. The investigation could take several weeks or months and will involve inspecting the plane wreckage, talking to the men who were aboard and interviewing witnesses, he said. Greenwood police are not looking into the incident any further because federal investigators handle plane crashes, assistant police chief Matt Fillenwarth said.
Rumley is licensed to fly multiple types of planes and helicopters and has logged more than 11,000 hours in the air, Jeffries said. He has been an instructor with Jeff Air Pilot Services for about two-and-a-half years. Abshier had taken flying lessons about 10 years ago but never received a license and wanted to start again, Jeffries said. He was familiar with flying a plane because of that experience, he said.
During an introductory flight an instructor would point out dials that need to be monitored in flight, explain how to operate the controls and let the student take over to perform some basic maneuvers.
Pilots are trained to locate an open area, such as a farm field, to land if they can’t make it back to an airport, Jeffries said. The landing in the field caused the nose and engine to get ripped off the front of the plane, but Jeffries said Rumley’s vast experience helped prevent them from getting seriously hurt or killed.
“Dennis is a very methodical pilot and very cautious and good at what he does. I feel confident that they walked away from that accident because of his skill,” Jeffries said.
Instructors and students go through a procedure before taking off for any flight to review what they’ll be doing, inspect the plane for any visible defects and then check instruments and engine operation before taking off, Jeffries said. Pilots will look over the plane, including the tires, wings and propeller, to check for any noticeable damage or problems.
Once inside the plane, pilots run preflight checks to make sure magnets are firing properly in the engine, the carburetor is properly heated so the engine doesn’t ice up in the air and that gauges and instruments in the cockpit are working properly.
The FAA requires all planes used for teaching have dual yokes and rudder controls so both the student and instructor can control the plane, Jeffries said. If the aircraft has mechanical problems or a student does something to destabilize the plane, the instructor can immediately grab the wheel and take over control.
Instructors are required to have at least 250 hours of flight time, have a commercial flight license and meet additional teaching requirements set by the FAA, Jeffries said. Students go through hours of training with an instructor and must also log hours of solo flights before being able to take a final flight test to receive a pilot’s license. Students are required to log a minimum of 40 hours of flight time, but the national average is 60 to 80 hours, Jeffries said.
Jeff Air Flight Services averages about eight instructors and typically has about 20 students enrolled in flight training, Jeffries said. The school has been open at the Greenwood airport for about three years.