Flight instructor appeared to correct plane before crash, witness tells NTSB

The flight instructor who died in a Newport News plane crash during an instructional flight this month appeared to try to correct the plane’s path before it hit the ground, a witness told the National Transportation Safety Board.

The NTSB’s preliminary report on the crash states the Cessna 172 Skyhawk departed the Newport News-Williamsburg International Airport’s runway at “a steep (nose-high) pitch attitude.” While in flight, the plane’s left wing stalled and dropped, then leveled out momentarily before dropping again and diving into a ditch next to the runway, according to a flight instructor who was taxiing nearby and saw the crash.

“The witness thought the instructor of the accident airplane tried to recover from the stall because the airplane’s wings leveled out momentarily before the left wing dropped again, and the airplane hit the ground on its belly,” the NTSB report states.

The flight instructor, Viktoria Ljungman, was killed, and two 18-year-old Hampton University students aboard the plane were seriously injured Oct. 6. Ljungman, a Hampton University graduate, majored in flight education was working as a flight instructor for Rick Aviation Flight School.

The NTSB has not reached a conclusion about what caused the crash. A spokesperson for the NTSB said the full investigation will take 1-2 years.

The witness told NTSB investigators the plane, flown by one of the students, took off with its nose pointed up at a roughly 30-degree angle before stalling at about 200 feet. The NTSB spokesperson noted investigators have received conflicting accounts of the plane’s altitude — between 200 feet and 50 feet — before the crash, and will continue to review available information.

Phil Solomon, a certified flight instructor and CFO of Heart of Virginia Aviation outside Richmond, reviewed the NTSB report and said the takeoff angle was far steeper than normal, noting a plane would typically take off with its nose at a maximum angle of 10-15 degrees.

“That was way, way, way above what would be necessary to cause a stall,” Solomon said.

Solomon said this type of stall, a “power on stall” or “departure stall,” occurs when an aircraft exceeds its critical angle of attack. Based on the description of the events in the report, he said the plane went from a stall into a spin.

“Typically, if you’re going to have that type of stall, it’s almost always going to be on some form of departure from the airport, which is why it can be deadly,” Solomon said.

The left wing tilting downward can be a sign of a plane encountering an asymmetrical force while the engine is at full power, which is known to cause the plane to corkscrew to the left, according to Solomon. There is a stall warning before the plane actually stalls, after which a pilot can push the nose down to correct its path, he said.

The NTSB report indicates weather conditions at the time of takeoff were clear and “flight control continuity” was established for all major flight control surfaces to the cockpit. Solomon said that means investigators found no technical issues with the flight controls.

The NTSB report notes that the Rick Aviation Flight School is accredited by the Federal Aviation Administration as a Part 141 flight school, which Solomon said is a “rigorous” process required for university affiliated flight schools. The students were a part of Hampton University’s Bachelor of Science aviation degree program, which has a partnership with Rick Aviation.

Virginia State Police identified the student pilot as Oluwagbohunmi Ayomide Oyebode of Hanover, Maryland. A police spokesperson previously said Oyebode tried to pull the plane up at “too steep of an angle,” which caused it to stall. Police have not named the other injured student or provided any updated information about their injuries or conditions.

A representative from Rick Aviation Flight School declined to comment on the preliminary NTSB report and the crash itself.

Solomon said it’s common practice for flight schools to have a student pilot accompanied by an instructor, who has the ability to easily take over the controls if needed, with another student in the back to observe.

Gavin Stone, 757-712-4806, gavin.stone@virginiamedia.com