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Safety Board Cites Probable Cause of 1998 Plane Crash That Killed Five

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An airplane crash that killed a pilot and five skydivers in Grain Valley in 1998 probably was caused by preflight errors that led to a loss of oil and to rod failures in the engine, according to investigators' final report.

A report released over the weekend by the National Transportation Safety Board concluded that the pilot, David G. Snyder of Independence, inadequately prepared the single-engine plane before the flight. No safety board spokesman could be reached for comment on Sunday.

Leaking oil apparently led to overheating and engine failure, the report said. The oil filler tube was missing and screws were either missing or loose. Connecting rods in two of the plane's six cylinders were found unattached to the crankshaft.

Shortly into the flight, which originated at Independence Memorial Airport, Snyder told air traffic controllers he was canceling skydiving operations. Witnesses reported seeing white and black smoke and hearing a banging sound from the plane.

The 1979 model Cessna 206 crashed and burned at the East Kansas City Airport in Grain Valley on March 21, 1998.

Skydiving passengers who were killed were Marion C. Rudder, 47, of Oskaloosa, Kan.; John H. Schuman, 47, of Lawrence; Kenneth L. Buckley, 50, of Independence; Paul Eric Rueff, 32, of Kansas City, Kan.; and Julie L. Douglass, 24, of Kansas City.

Snyder, 55, was the registered owner of the plane. He obtained his commercial pilot certificate in 1971 and was rated to fly by visual flight rules, which he was doing on the day of the crash.

Snyder was flying for the Greater Kansas City Skydiving Club, which was based at the Independence airport. The club does not have a listed telephone number, and its officers could not be reached Sunday.

Chris Hall, president of a separate operation in Lee's Summit called Skydive Kansas City Inc., said he frequently gets calls from people trying to locate the former Independence outfit.

The safety board's finding of probable cause differs with a theory propounded by Kansas City lawyer Gary C. Robb, who represents the families of four of the dead skydivers in a lawsuit against the engine manufacturer, Teledyne Industries Inc.

Robb contends there were metallurgical faults in the engine's connecting rods. Robb could not be reached Sunday, and the status of the lawsuit could not immediately be determined.

Robert Cotter, a local lawyer representing Teledyne, has said the crash was a result of maintenance problems.

Federal Aviation Administration records show that a certified mechanic had declared the aircraft and its engine airworthy four months before the crash. Work was done on the plane's cylinders and rings one month before the crash, and work was done on the oil pump one week before the crash. A second certified mechanic declared it airworthy at that time.

Investigators looking at the wreckage found that the engine and the left side of the fuselage, including the wing and strut, were covered with oil film. A metal oil filler tube, the piece to which the oil cap connects, was missing and the screws that would have connected it were not found.

In addition, five of six screws connecting the rocker-arm cover to cylinder number 6 were missing, and the sixth one was loose.

Holes were found on the left crankcase near cylinders 2 and 6, the two in which the connecting rods were unattached.

"The engine's internal components suffered damage typical of oil loss and heat distress," the safety board report states.

The fatal flight took off with a full load of passengers shortly after 5:30 p.m. on a Saturday. Snyder made contact as "Skydive Six" with air traffic controllers and apparently left his radio microphone on, or it was stuck in the on position.

About eight minutes after Snyder indicated he was going to climb to 11,000 feet above sea level, the controller reported hearing, "What the hell was that?" In his last transmission Snyder announced, without explanation, that he was canceling the jump.

Radar indicates the highest altitude the plane achieved was 5,200 feet above sea level or roughly 4,400 feet above the ground. Witnesses eight miles northeast of the Grain Valley airport reported seeing white and black smoke trailing from the plane.

A witness two miles north of the airport reported hearing a banging sound. At the airport witnesses saw flames from the engine licking the windshield.

The plane clipped some trees just south of the airport. Its right wing struck the ground, and the craft cartwheeled and burned.

Buckley, Rueff, Rudder and Schuman all were experienced skydivers. Douglass was to make her first jump.

Ron Sharp, who was president of the Greater Kansas City Skydiving Club, said a few days after the crash that the Cessna 206 had been in the air several times already that day.

At one point the engine became flooded and the plane was allowed to sit awhile. Later, after the battery was recharged, another pilot took it up for a test flight, Sharp said. Then Snyder took off with his passengers.

"It sounded good," Sharp said at the time. "It sounded perfect."

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