LAS VEGAS -- A new federal report says parts of the right wing on a medical transport plane that crashed last month in rural Nevada, killing all five people aboard, fell far from the main wreckage site.
The National Transportation Safety Board's preliminary findings released Wednesday could support the agency's initial theory that the aircraft had broken apart before hitting the ground. NTSB is expected to release its final report with a probable cause within two years.
The agency says parts of the plane's right wing were located as far as three-quarters of a mile (1.1 kilometers) from where the single-engine Pilatus PC12 crashed in Stagecoach, Nevada, a rural community of about 2,500 residents outside of Reno.
Authorities have said the Care Flight piloted by Scott Walton, 46, was headed from Reno to Salt Lake City when it crashed around 9:15 p.m. on Feb. 24 amid a winter storm. Care Flight is a service of REMSA Health, and its aviation vendor is Guardian Flight.
Guardian Flight said in a statement Wednesday it was reviewing the report and assessing ways to strengthen its safety protocols.
“The safety and well-being of our patients and crew is our utmost priority and we will continue to make significant investments to bolster our commitment," the company said.
The other victims also included 69-year-old patient Mark Rand and his 66-year-old spouse Terri Rand, as well as two medical crew members, Edward Pricola, 32, and Ryan Watson, 27.
Walton contacted air traffic control minutes before the crash to report that the plane was climbing past 15,400 feet (4,694 meters), according to the report. But no further radio transmissions came in from the pilot, the report states.
Just minutes later, the plane began to fall — dropping about 8,000 feet (2,440 meters) in 30 seconds — before the aircraft's navigation tracking system went dark, according to the report.
Dan Rose, an aviation attorney retained by relatives of the Rands, told The Associated Press that they hope NTSB will investigate Guardian Flight’s decision to fly instead of waiting for the winter storm to pass. Rose also said Mark Rand’s condition wasn’t life-threatening at the time.
“I know the family would want the NTSB to look carefully at the two issues,” Rose said Wednesday. “They’re really intertwined.”
The National Weather Service said it was snowing steadily when the flight left Reno, with winds around 20 mph (30 kph) and gusts up to 30 mph (50 kph). Visibility was under 2 miles (3.2 kilometers) with a cloud ceiling about 2,000 feet (600 meters).