The Journal Gazette
Wednesday, May 10, 2017 2:40 pm

NTSB report: Lack of fuel probably caused '15 Smith Field crash

RON SHAWGO | For The Journal Gazette

A pilot who left the scene after his small plane crashed near Smith Field in 2015 -- injuring him and his passenger -- misjudged fuel levels, federal authorities have concluded.

Jeffrey Mills' "inadequate preflight planning and fuel management, which resulted in a total loss of engine power due to fuel exhaustion," was the probable cause of the crash, according to the National Transportation Safety Board's final report posted online last week.

The report adds little to the findings of the agency's factual report released in March. That report contained a short written statement about the crash from Mills, who apparently was never interviewed by local, state or federal investigators.

Local police could not find Mills after the Sept. 26, 2015, crash. The NTSB investigator and the Federal Aviation Administration coordinator were unable to talk to him, according to the final report.

Mills, then 36, had been with a group of friends at a downtown bar late Sept. 25, 2015, according to police reports. He left the bar about 12:15 a.m., according to police. Mills and others showed up later at Smith Field, where the plane was kept.

Mills piloted two 15-minute flights around Smith Field in the early morning hours, according to his NTSB statement. A minute after taking off for a third flight about 3:41 a.m. the engine sputtered. The plane clipped a tree and a house roof as Mills tried to return to Smith Field. The plane, a 1966 Cessna, landed upside down in a backyard.

Richard A. Barge, the passenger, was treated at a hospital for a head wound. In separate sections of the NTSB report, Barge's injuries are described as both minor and serious.

Mills, who lives near Smith Field, walked away from the wreckage, but was treated for injuries at an undisclosed location, his attorney, Michael Loomis, has said.

An aviation recovery facility drained the plane's two fuel tanks and recovered about a third of a gallon of fuel from one and 6 ounces from the other, according to the NTSB's factual report. Neither tank had been breached. In his NTSB statement, Mills reported no mechanical malfunction or failure with the plane.

"Therefore, it is likely that the pilot miscalculated the total amount of fuel onboard and, thus, the total flight time before fuel exhaustion," the final report states.

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