After plane crash goes unnoticed, NTSB focuses on seven-hour window

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Federal investigators continue to examine the wreckage of a small plane that crashed at Nashville International Airport, killing one person. (Courtesy: WSMV)

(CNN) — This week’s deadly plane crash at Nashville International Airport occurred sometime after 2 a.m. but wasn’t noticed until shortly before 9 a.m., a National Transportation Safety Board investigator said Wednesday without elaborating.

“At this point we have no idea the exact time,” said Jay Neylon, the air safety investigator in charge of the probe into Tuesday’s early morning crash.

There was dense fog when the single-engine Cessna 172R Skyhawk registered to an Ontario, Canada, flying club crashed, but Neylon said the NTSB was still investigating whether the fog played a role.

The pilot of another plane reported “debris on the runway” to the control tower about 8:45 a.m., Neylon said. Airport personnel responded to find the plane’s sole occupant dead amid the plane’s fire-scarred wreckage.

Authorities have not released the pilot’s name.

In a statement, David Gillies, president of The Windsor Flying Club in Ontario said tapes indicate the pilot circled over the airport “for some time” and that the plane crashed while trying to land about 2:30 a.m.

“The aircraft in question was completely destroyed. There was no further damage to persons or property on the ground,” the statement said.

In a subsequent interview, Gillies said the pilot did not have his Instrument Flight Rules certification, but he had a night rating. The pilot, who was in good standing with the flight club and whose license was current, rented the Cessna and was scheduled to return the airplane Tuesday at noon, Gillies said.

“It is not usual for this individual to rent an airplane overnight,” he said.

The flight from Windsor, just over the Canadian border from Detroit, to Nashville is about 470 miles. The pilot left Windsor around 8 p.m., which would have put him in Nashville long before 2:30 a.m., Gillies said.

There’s a roughly two-hour gap, according to Gillies, though he declined to say what may have caused the gap. Gillies cited Nashville airport personnel as his source for the crash time.

“I don’t know if they are radar tapes or not, but they’ve indicated to us that they have tapes of him circling and that the time of his demise was about 2:30. I can only take that at face value,” he said.

The NTSB was surveying the crash site Wednesday and planned to examine air traffic control tapes and radar later. Though a preliminary statement should be issued within 10 days, it could take up to a year to determine probable cause, Neylon said.

Asked if this wreck was anomalous, Neylon said, “Every accident’s unusual” and declined to say whether he had seen similar incidents of a plane crash at an international airport going unreported for such a long time.

The airport’s control tower is staffed 24 hours a day, the Federal Aviation Administration told CNN. It was not immediately clear how many controllers were in the tower during the overnight shift, and Neylon declined to say.

Another FAA spokesman said it was not known whether the plane had been in contact with controllers, or if it had made a distress call. Neylon, too, had no answers.

The Windsor Flying Club has been training pilots and renting airplanes since 1944, and this is possibly the worst crash in its history, Gillies said.

By Mike M. Ahlers.┬áCNN’s Eliott C. McLaughlin contributed to this report.

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