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Student pilot practicing emergency procedures at time of fatal plane crash, NTSB says

Maintenance records show last annual inspection of plane took place day before crash
Posted at 5:20 PM, Apr 23, 2024

ST. LUCIE COUNTY, Fla. — Students from Aviator College are once again on the flight line at the St. Lucie County International Airport.

The campus is recovering from the March 30 crash that killed flight instructor Maria Valentina Guillen of Argentina.

In its preliminary report into the crash, the National Transportation Safety Board said the student on board was practicing single-engine emergency procedures.

Aviation expert David Bjellos said it's a normal training maneuver.

"He has to demonstrate that he can fly the aircraft on a single engine," Bjellos said. "He has to be able to fly the airplane, bring it back to the runway and land."

In the report, both the student and instructor said there was no thrust from the engines as they descended.

Bjellos said he read a disconnect in the report between those in the aircraft and investigators.

"The NTSB had looked at both engines," he said. "They were operating normally, yet the pilots reported that they weren't producing power."

Aviation expert David Bjellos talks about March 30, 2024 Aviator College plane crash
"They were operating normally, yet the pilots reported that they weren't producing power," aviation expert David Bjellos says.

Bjellos added that it's too soon to determine if pilot error played a role.

The report said the instructor took control of the plane and declared an emergency as she tried to land. The airplane stalled and impacted the ground.

A witness in an airplane parked near the taxiway said the engine power "sounded normal for this type of aircraft at the time of the stall."

Roxanne Palmer, the director of academic affairs at Aviator College, said they were "still in the process of working with all of our oversight agencies on all action items related to both the incident and our ability to move forward in numerous spaces."

Aviator College logo visible on plane at Treasure Coast International Airport
Aviator College is located at Treasure Coast International Airport.

The Federal Aviation Administration confirmed to WPTV that it has conducted inspections this year and that the flight school continues to address some issues the agency identified, though the FAA did not specify, nor did the school provide specifics.

Its director of maintenance is providing assurances on the safety of the aircraft through a quality assurance review that is the standard in commercial flight organizations.

"The chances of neglect is very low," Bjellos said.

Maintenance records show the last annual inspection of the plane had taken place the day before the crash.

The NTSB will release a final report in the future.