Pilot error blamed in Columbia crash that killed 3

COLUMBIA -- Pilot error likely caused a small plane to crash in foggy January weather on approach to Columbia Metropolitan Airport, killing all three on board, several aviation experts said Tuesday.

They said the 57-year-old Columbia pilot was flying too low for weather conditions and apparently broke other regulations before and during the ill-fated flight Columbia's worst fatal plane crash in nearly 36 years.

But the pilot's widow believes there was something mechanically wrong with the single-engine, four-seater Cessna 182P. She also questioned why no air traffic controllers warned her husband he was flying too low.

"We know he would have done everything he could to save the plane and his passengers," Audrey Stanek, wife of pilot Bernard "Bun" Stanek Jr., said Tuesday.

Stanek and passengers Len Lovette, 71, of Hopkins, who also was a pilot, and Nathan Derek Faulkenberry, 34, of Columbia, were killed at about 11:30 p.m. Jan. 4 when their plane crashed in woods less than a mile from the runway where it was supposed to land.

The National Transportation Safety Board, which investigated the crash, issued a factual report Saturday on the crash. A final probable cause report will be released later.

The State newspaper asked three aviation experts Tuesday to review the factual report, which doesn't list a cause but gives details about the pilot's background, aircraft, weather conditions and the sequence of events leading up to the crash.

All three said the NTSB likely will conclude that pilot error was the probable cause.

"It's all indicative of an unprofessional, casual at best attitude toward a flight," said Jim Walters, of Virginia, a commercial airline captain and former chairman of the Air Line Pilots Association's Accident Investigation Board. "You needed to be on your best behavior, and that was not it."

The factual report suggests that Stanek made mistakes or violated Federal Aviation Administration regulations, Walters said, including:

• Not having required registration paperwork or updated flying charts on the plane, which had been bought by M.B. Kahn Construction Co. two days before the crash. Stanek was flying Faulkenberry, a project manager for Kahn, on a business trip the day of the crash.

• Under Instrument Flight Rules procedures used in bad weather trips, Stanek should not have chosen Columbia Metropolitan Airport as an alternative after being diverted from Owens Field airport in downtown Columbia because similar foggy conditions existed at both airports.