Dr. Stephen Hatch was attempting an instrument approach to Charlevoix (Mich.) Municipal Airport when his single-engine plane crashed last month, killing him and his wife and critically injuring his son, investigators said in a preliminary report.
The crash killed Hatch, 46; his wife, Kim, 44; and critically injured his son, Austin, 16, who is hospitalized in Traverse City, Mich.
The Hatches' Beechcraft A36 was headed for Boyne Falls, Mich., June 24, but was diverted to Charlevoix for an unknown reason, a Federal Aviation Administration spokesman previously said. The National Transportation Safety Board's preliminary report did not say why the plane diverted.
Indianapolis-based flight instructor Preston Wulfenspein said the GPS approach Hatch was making while trying to land is used to guide pilots to 500 feet above the ground. Wulfenspein said his speculation was based on the preliminary report.
According to the report, Hatch told the Charlevoix airport that he was executing the GPS approach to the 4,550-foot runway. The preliminary report did not give a cause of the crash.
Witnesses said the cloud ceiling was 200 feet about ground level and visibility was 1 mile. The plane broke out of the clouds about halfway down the runway, according to the report.
Wulfenspein is a certified flight instructor, and also is a certified flight instrument instructor and multi-engine instructor.
"Pilots would make an instrument approach for practice or because they can't see," he said. "It seems as though he was either disoriented or confident enough where he thought he could descend below the minimums. He did, but it was not the right thing to do. It was poor decisionmaking."
The plane's engine then increased power, the report said, before making a left turn and a turn back right around a water tower located southwest of the airport.
"He obviously descended below what that approach allowed," Wulfenspein said. "From what I gathered, he stalled the aircraft trying to turn back to the runway."
Witnesses said the plane then flew right about 200 feet above the runway, the report said. The plane then began a right turn toward the runway, pitch nose up and then rolled to the left.
"That's a byproduct of stalling in uncoordinated flight," Wulfenspein said of the plane's movement moments before the crash.
The plane then hit a yard of a residence adjacent to the north perimeter of the airport and came to rest upright within a three-stall garage attached to the residence, the report said.
The fact that Hatch had to divert may have played into why he tried to turn the plane around and land. He may have been low on fuel, Wulfenspein speculated.
The accident site showed the initial ground impact about 75 feet from the main wreckage and contained the left wing tip fuel tank fairing and pitot tube. The main wreckage included the fuselage, engine, empennage and both wings, according to the report.
According to the NTSB report, the three-bladed propeller was separated from the engine crankshaft and was lying adjacent to the main wreckage. Investigators said the plane's landing gear was extended and the flaps were retracted.
The NTSB said a final report could take more than a year to release.
"Most of aviation accidents are the results of snowball effect," Wulfenspein said. "One thing goes wrong and leads to another. If proper decisionmaking is not initiated early on, a crash will likely ensue."
Hatch and his son, Austin, survived a 2003 plane crash that killed Austin's mother, Julie, and a sister and brother.
In the 2003 crash, the NTSB said investigation found that a lack of fuel caused the crash. That report also cited the low cloud ceiling, dark night conditions and the presence of a utility pole as contributing factors.
When the report was released in 2005, Hatch's lawyer, Michael Loomis, told The Journal Gazette that he and his client disagreed with the investigation's findings, saying that certain calculations of the safety board were flawed.
Stephen Hatch was born in Saginaw, Mich., and was an anesthesiologist and partner in Pain Management Associates. He was a medical and business leader in the community, a member of St. Vincent dePaul Catholic Church and Blackhawk Ministries, and was involved with Canterbury School and Smith Field, according to an obituary published in Saturday's edition of The Journal Gazette.
Kim Hatch was a member of Blackhawk Ministries, according to her obituary.
A memorial service is at 4 p.m. Wednesday at Blackhawk Christian Ministries, 7400 E. State Blvd., Fort Wayne.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations may be made to the Hatch Charitable Gift Fund, c/o D.O. McComb & Sons Pine Valley Park Funeral Home, 1320 East Dupont Road, Fort Wayne, IN 46825, which is in charge of arrangements.