NTSB releases report on deadly Greenwood plane crash, witnesses report ‘popping’ sound

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GREENWOOD (July 17, 2014) – The National Transportation Safety Board’s preliminary report into last week’s fiery plane crash in Greenwood says witnesses reported a popping sound before the plane went down.

The crash happened around 2:20 p.m. on July 11. The plane, a Mooney M20M, took off from the Greenwood Municipal Airport and was bound for East Texas Regional Airport in Longview, Texas.

Pilot Bill Gilliland, 46, Greenwood, was killed after the plane crashed into two homes. His co-pilot, certified flight instructor Michael Elliott of Tarpon Springs, Fla., suffered serious injuries. Gilliland was a vice president for Simon Property Group and an experienced pilot.

The report from the NTSB said the purpose of the flight was “an annual inspection and to receive instrument flight instruction during the flight.” Several witnesses saw the plane before it left and during the takeoff. They said the plane engine “sounded normal” while taxiing. It sat at the edge of the runway for 10 to 15 minutes before departure.

During takeoff, two witnesses saw blue smoke trailing from the airplane. One of those witnesses reported hearing a “loud popping sound” as if the engine was misfiring.

After the plane was airborne, other witnesses reported hearing the popping noise and thought the plane was going to come about for a landing on the runway. Instead, the plane continued to climb.

Witnesses said the aircraft was “slow and wallowing with the nose pitching up and down slightly” as it continued to climb. Those at the north end of the airport said they didn’t hear the engine as the plane turned south. They couldn’t say if the lack of sound was because the engine had lost power or because they were too far away to hear anything.

A witness in a parking lot south of the airport saw the plane in the air. He didn’t hear any popping noise or see any smoke as the aircraft glided at treetop level. The witness said the engine sounded like it was idle or set for low power. The witness said he looked away and when he looked back, the plane had disappeared.