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Preliminary Report Released for Ted Christopher's Fatal Plane Crash

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has released their preliminary report on a September 16, 2017, plane crash in Connecticut that killed 59-year-old racing legend Ted Christopher, but gave few answers as to what might have been the cause of the fatal crash. Further investigation into the potential causes of the small plane crash is underway, while thousands of Christopher's fans mourn the famed driver.

Why Did Ted Christopher's Mooney M20C Plane Crash? 

Preliminary NTSB reports cover initial information gleaned from the agency when they first traveled to the accident scene near North Branford, Connecticut to study the crash, but do not fully delve into all aspects of the incident. The preliminary report for Ted Christopher's plane crash outlines details such as the time of the crash (1:00 p.m. Eastern time) and the fact that the Mooney M20C plane had departed from Francis S. Gabreski Airport in Westhampton Beach, New York earlier in the day. It then picked up Christopher in Plainville, Connecticut at Robertson Field Airport, and then departed again for Westhampton Beach. It also confirms that the aircraft was in a "steep descending attitude" when it collided with 75-foot pine trees.

The report additionally covers the NTSB's discoveries at the accident scene and addresses some of the potential factors that can cause plane crashes.

Weather 

The NTSB determined weather was not a factor, with good conditions identified for Tweed-New Haven Airport-approximately nine miles southwest of the site of the crash-within an hour of the Mooney plane going down. The wind was recorded at three knots, and visibility was more than 10 miles, with mild temperatures and few clouds.

Equipment Failure 

Equipment failure can be difficult to identify, and the preliminary report did not suggest any factors as a cause of the crash. The engine was still attached and predominately intact at the accident site, as well as all cylinders and the propeller. The fuel lines and oil lines were not broken, and the oil was full.

These factors, however, do not rule out more complicated equipment failure due to improper design or manufacturing of the aircraft, and that will be one of the biggest components of the more thorough investigation moving forward.

Fuel 

The agency analyzed the possibility of a fuel shortage in its preliminary report, but findings showed that the plane was not affected by it. The Mooney M20C received 15.8 gallons of gasoline (9 gallons in its right wing tank and 6.8 gallons in its left wing tank) at 11:09 a.m. The report notes the fueler watched Charles Patrick Dundas, the pilot, sample the fuel in the system after it was filled.

The right wing tank was punctured during the crash, but the report says that Dundas was using the left wing tank, which had approximately 7.5 gallons of fuel.

Pilot Certification

Dundas, the 81-year-old Mooney M20C pilot, had an extensive flying background. He had 31,300 hours of flying time when he was last medically examined on October 16, 2006. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) records show that Dundas was also certified to fly commercial multi-engine aircraft, including the Boeing 757 and Boeing 767.

Christopher and Dundas, who owned the Mooney M20C, are believed to have had a long friendship, and the NTSB preliminary report says the duo had been "flying together for over 10 years and had flown the route many times." The chief state medical examiner said both men's deaths were caused by blunt force trauma.

Complete NTSB Report on Connecticut Plane Crash May Take Over a Year 

A full report from the NTSB will likely take more than a year, as investigators continue to probe what caused the crash. Lawrence A. McCarter will lead the investigation and said in a televised statement that he expects the completed report in 12-18 months. The FAA will assist in the ongoing investigation, while the North Branford police offered their assistance at the scene of the crash.

Nearby Witnesses Heard Sound Similar to "Gravel Being Dumped" 

Residents who live near the site of the plane crash in Connecticut said the sound of the incident caught their attention, but that it was an unusual noise.

"We heard a noise, it almost sounded like a dump truck opening the back and gravel falling out," Carrie Carignan said in an interview with the Hartford Courant. She and her fiancé went into the woods near their house to investigate, where they eventually discovered the wreckage.

"The plane is literally straight up and down. They were saying maybe it hit a tree and literally went straight down-it was just horrific," Carignan said of the scene. "The nose is down and the wings and everything are just spread out through the woods. I really didn't want to look at it too much."

An unidentified neighbor who also reached the accident scene said that one of the victims had been thrown from the plane and was outside the aircraft when they arrived.

Ted Christopher Was on His Way to NASCAR Race When His Plane Crashed 

Christopher had a long and illustrious career in modified racing that had earned him the nickname "The King." He held titles as the winningest driver at both Stafford Motor Speedway and Thompson Speedway and was the third-winningest driver of all time on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour.

NASCAR CEO Brian France issued a statement on Christopher following the fatal plane crash:

"We are all saddened to learn of the tragic plane crash this afternoon that claimed the lives of NASCAR driver Ted Christopher and the aircraft's pilot. As a championship driver on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour and New England short tracks, Christopher was a throwback to NASCAR's roots. He was a tough racer's racer, and his hard driving style and candid personality endeared him to short track fans throughout the country. He will be missed throughout the racing community, in the garage and, especially, in the hearts of his many fans. NASCAR has his family and friends in its thoughts and prayers during this difficult time."

Christopher was flying to compete in a Modified Tour race at the Riverhead Raceway at the time of the plane crash. That same day, following news of the crash, a driver drove Christopher's #13 car for two remembrance laps at Waterford Speedbowl. A September 25, 2017, wake held in Plainville for Christopher brought a crowd of about 3,500.

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