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A pilot who flew his small plane into a hangar at the Juneau Airport last year probably crashed because he stalled the aircraft by mistake on takeoff, according to a final report by federal investigators.
The accident claimed the life of the plane's sole occupant - pilot Anton Bowers, 69, of Sitka. The report by the National Transportation Safety Board cites as a factor in the crash Bowers' lack of a private pilot certificate, which was revoked by the Federal Aviation Administration in 1999 after he had two other aviation accidents.
Although a toxicological test by the state medical examiner showed evidence of alcohol in Bowers' blood, later tests by the FAA ruled out alcohol and drugs, said NTSB investigator Scott Erickson.
"Subsequent examination of tissues and fluids by the FAA's Aeromedical Institute were negative," Erickson said. "Why is there a discrepancy? I can't answer that. Is there some issue of how that sample was gathered or whether it was properly preserved? I don't know."
The crash happened shortly after takeoff on Aug. 31, 2000. Bowers' Cessna 172 appeared to climb about 400 feet, but then rolled to the left and right, the report said. Then the aircraft descended sharply to the left, collided with a tree near Jordan Creek and crashed into the Silver Bay Aviation hangar. No one on the ground was hurt.
Federal inspectors did not find evidence of mechanical problems, according to the report, which instead cited an "inadvertent stall mush" by the pilot. A stall mush is when a plane stalls, then goes down in a straight line, as opposed to a spinning descent, Erickson said.
"It appeared to be a ... stall mush where the plane didn't have sufficient flying speed and the nose just dropped straight ahead," he said.
Bowers' license to pilot was revoked 10 years ago because of two previous accidents in the Lower 48, according to the NTSB. The first one happened in 1989 while he was landing in Kent, Wash., the report said. As a result, the FAA required him to submit to a pilot proficiency test, but Bowers failed the exam. He voluntarily surrendered his pilot certificate to the FAA, and the agency returned it later that year with the understanding Bowers would take the test again, the report said. He failed to reschedule the exam.
On Jan. 2, 1991, he had another accident in Renton, Wash., while taxiing a Cessna 180 floatplane. The right float submerged and the airplane sank. Eight days later the FAA issued an emergency order suspending Bowers' pilot certificate. Bowers took another pilot proficiency test later that month but failed again, and in February that year, the FAA revoked his license to pilot.
Although the NTSB concluded Bowers' lack of certification might have played a role in the crash, it stopped short of pinning the accident directly on a lack of expertise.
"He had a pilot certificate at one time, so it's not as if he had no training at all," Erickson said. "That's why you'll see that the cause is the stall, but a factor is a lack of certification."
Kathy Dye can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.