Amazon Executive Killed in Piper Crash
On December 3, 2011, a Piper PA-32-260, N33315, operated by Great Lakes Air crashed during poor weather conditions near St. Ignace, Michigan. The crash took the life of Tom Phillips, a general manager with Amazon Web Services and a former Microsoft executive.
Great Lakes Air Inc. is incorporated and has been operating in Michigan since 1983. Its operations seem to be limited to transportation between St. Ignace and Mackinac Island. They have only a few aircraft in their fleet, including two fairly old Piper-32-260s, like the accident aircraft photographed above (known as a Cherokee Six or Saratoga). The accident aircraft was manufactured in 1975 by Piper. According to FAA registry documents, the aircraft was equipped with a Lycoming O-540 Series engine, also manufactured in 1975.
According to the NTSB preliminary report, instrument meteorological conditions (IMC) prevailed, and no flight plan was filed. The airplane departed from the Mackinac County Airport (83D), St. Ignace, Michigan, around 2000 with an intended destination of the Mackinac Island Airport (MCD), Mackinac Island, Michigan. There was no report of a “MAYDAY” call. A search was initiated after concerned family members called authorities. The wreckage was located in a wooded area 1.6 miles north of Mackinac County Airport. The flight was being conducted under Federal Aviation Regulations (FARs) Part 135, which contains heightened requirements for flights carrying passengers, including more demanding operations, training and maintenance procedures, which Great Lakes was required to follow on this flight and in its transport operations. Last year, Kreindler & Kreindler successfully resolved a case against another Michigan Part 135 operator by demonstrating that the company was not following the federal regulations as required and that the operation was deficient in training, maintenance and most importantly, flight operations.
The NTSB investigation is underway and will undoubtedly examine the wreckage to ascertain whether there was flight control continuity. They will examine the engine to see if it was producing power and also inspect the propeller impact signature to determine whether it was rotating before impact with terrain. Since the flight was operating in instrument conditions (low clouds and no visibility), the aircraft instruments will need to be inspected as part of the investigation to ensure the pilot was receiving the accurate course, heading and attitude information.
Photo Credit: Piper PA-32-260 plane, Bob Adams