Plane had engine trouble in month before deadly SLO crash

acornejo@thetribunenews.comJuly 12, 2013 

Scott Metzger had just departed from San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport when his plane began to descend and he called “Mayday, Mayday” over the tower frequency.

The controller responded, and a broken transmission of “uh” was the last word heard from Metzger before the fiery plane crash killed him seconds later.

The plane was having engine trouble leading up to the crash, but Metzger had not yet made the repairs despite asking two separate maintenance facilities to inspect it.

On the day Metzger crashed, he intended to fly to a Palo Alto maintenance facility to have the engine problems diagnosed further.

The National Transportation Safety Board released those details and more this week in a preliminary report investigating the June 24 crash.

Metzger was killed on impact when his plane struck two power lines and then crashed into a FedEx truck near the Promega Biosciences building on Granada Drive in San Luis Obispo.

Metzger’s small twin-engine plane, a Cessna Skymaster, was having problems with its rear engine in the month leading up to the accident. The plane was “stuttering at 2,000 rpm,” according to the NTSB report.

Multiple witnesses at the airport said abnormal sounds were coming from the plane as it set off down the runway.

A tower controller said he heard a “bang” as the plane passed the tower at midfield. Another witness said a “popping” sound could be heard. And another said his attention was drawn to the plane because he heard the sound of “propellers out of sync.”

Metzger, who did not file a flight plan, had informed air traffic control personnel that he was going to do a high-speed taxi, take off and circle the airport, then perform a touch-and-go landing before final departure.

He successfully navigated all of the maneuvers prior to final departure. However, Metzger used almost the full runway length before climbing to an altitude of 150 feet.

Prior to Metzger’s final flight, the plane had been inspected by Pigs Can Fly Aviation LLC at the San Luis Obispo airport.

However, Metzger chose not to fix it there.

“He was told that the problem was not fixed, and he knew what the problem was,” said Jim Willis, director of operations. “He described it to us when he brought the plane in.”

Unbeknownst to Willis, the plane had also been inspected at the Palo Alto maintenance facility that Metzger planned to return to.

“We weren’t aware he was going to fly the airplane,” Willis said. “When a plane comes to us and is not functioning properly, we as a matter of course always tell people not to fly until we fix it. But we don’t have the authority to make anyone not fly their plane.”

Investigation: Read the NTSB's preliminary accident report »

Reach AnnMarie Cornejo at 781-7939. Stay updated by following @a_cornejo on Twitter.

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