KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Air traffic controllers gave Ron Bramlage clearance to fly around heavy storms in central Florida shortly before the plane he was piloting crashed, killing him and his family, according to a preliminary federal report on the crash.
The report from the National Transportation Safety Board shows new details about the the June 7th crash that killed Junction City, Kansas, residents Ron and Becky Bramlage and their four children. The Bramlages, members of a prominent Kansas family, were returning to Kansas from a vacation in the Bahamas when their plane went down near Lake Wales, Florida.
The Bramlage plane, a Pilatus PC-12/47, had just taken off from St. Lucie County International Airport when 45-year-old Ron Bramlage – who held a private pilot certificate with airplane single engine land, and instrument airplane ratings – was given clearance to fly around an area of intense storms in central Florida by air traffic controllers in Miami.
According to the NTSB preliminary report, Bramlage acknowledged permission to fly clear of the storms, and that was the last contact between the plane and air traffic controllers.
The report indicates that the Bramlage plane then climbed to a maximum of 25,100 feet before rapidly losing altitude and crashing a few minutes later. A witness on the ground about 1.5 nautical miles from the crash site reported that he was inside his house when he first heard a sound he attributed to a propeller feathering, or later described as flutter of a flight control surface. The sound lasted three to four cycles of a whooshing high to low sound, followed by a sound he described as an energy release.
The witness was clear the sound he heard was not an explosion, but more like mechanical fracture of parts, the NTSB reports.
According to the report, the witness ran outside, and first saw the airplane below the clouds (according to the FAA, the cloud ceiling was estimated to be 10,000 feet on that day). He noted by silhouette that parts of the airplane were missing, but he did not see any parts separate from the airplane during the time he saw it. He went inside his house, and got a digital camera, then ran back outside to his pool deck and videotaped the descent.
According to the NTSB, the witness reported that the airplane was in a spin, but he could not recall the direction. He also noted that the engine sound was consistent the whole time, but he also reported that the plane showed no forward movement as it fell.
The pilot of another aircraft nearby reported hearing a mayday call about one minute before hearing an emergency locator transmitter.
Two other witnesses on the ground reported seeing a trail of black smoke from the aircraft as it was spinning towards the ground. According to the NTSB report, the two witnesses ran to the crash site approximately one-half mile from their home, where they found the fuselage of the aircraft on fire. They later led rescue crews to the scene of the crash.
The NTSB reports that their preliminary examination of the accident site revealed that the wreckage consisting of the fuselage and sections of both wings came to rest upright in an open field. Sections of both wings, and also the horizontal stabilizer and elevator were separated from the rest of the aircraft.
The separated components – consisting of sections of both wings, the horizontal stabilizer and elevator – were later located, tagged as to their location, and secured with the main wreckage.
The final NTSB report on the cause of the crash is expected to take up to a year to finish.