Parking brake found in ‘set’ position in Farmington plane crash that killed Boston couple, two local pilots, NTSB report says

A preliminary report from the National Transportation Safety Board on a plane crash in Farmington that killed four people found the private jet’s parking brake was still in the “set” position — and that witnesses reported the plane was struggling to get off the ground and “going slower” than usual during takeoff.

Information from the flight data recorder aboard the twin-engine Cessna 560XL found that the plane’s acceleration was slower than it was for two previous takeoffs, according to the NTSB report. Investigators also found skid marks on the airport runway.

The Sept. 2 crash killed two veteran pilots from Connecticut and a couple who left a 1-year-old son behind. After hitting the ground and skidding, the plane slammed into the side of the Trumpf plant, seriously injuring one person on the ground.

The couple, Courtney Haviland, 33, and her husband, William Shrauner, 31, were both doctors from Boston. Haviland was a Farmington native who graduated in 2006 from Farmington High School. In addition to leaving a 1-year-old son, Haviland was pregnant with a girl at the time of the crash, according to family friends.

William O’Leary, 55, from Bristol, and Mark Morrow, 57, from Danbury, were the two pilots killed in the crash.

Federal investigators found nothing wrong with the navigational parts of the plane, but noted that “the parking brake handle in the cockpit, and the respective valve that it controlled, were both found in the brake set position,” the report says. The plane did not sound an alarm to alert the pilots that the parking brake was on, the report says.

The report, posted on the NTSB website, noted that it is preliminary, “subject to change, may contain errors” and that additional information is still being gathered as the board assembles its final report. A board spokesman offered no additional comment.

Witnesses told investigators that the plane was “going slower” during takeoff than usual, and “a puff of blue-colored smoke” came from the back of the plane when it was about two-thirds down the runway at Robertson Airport in Plainville. Another witness said the nose’s landing gear was still on the ground as the plane approached the midpoint of the runway, and “he said to a friend with him that something was wrong.”

A third witness noticed that the plane was level when it left the runway.

“After clearing the runway, the airplane’s nose pitched up, but the airplane was not climbing,” the report says.

The plane then struck a utility pole, which caused “a small explosion near the right engine followed by a shower of softball-size sparks,” it says. The engine’s noise then went from “normal sounding to a much more grinding, metallic sound.” The plane began to move back and forth before the witness lost sight of it behind some trees.

The plane hit the ground outside Trumpf Inc., at 111 Hyde Road, skidded and slammed into a corner of the building and burst into flames about 9:50 a.m., the report says. One person on the ground was seriously injured, and two had minor injuries. Trumpf reported the day of the crash that two of its workers were injured; it wasn’t clear if some victims were outside the building at the time.

The twin-engine, Cessna Citation 560XL was headed to the Dare County Regional Airport on the Outer Banks of North Carolina when it crashed.

Morrow was a longtime pilot who graduated in the 1980s from the Florida Institute of Technology, which has advanced aviation and aeronautics programs, before spending two years working for Lufthansa Airlines in Hamburg, Germany, according to his LinkedIn resume. He was an active airline transport pilot, flight instructor and held mechanic certifications with the FAA, federal records show.

O’Leary was the son of William O’Leary Sr., who operated Interstate Aviation at Robertson Airport in Plainville for about 40 years, according to Town Manager Robert Lee.

He “was a fixture there for many years. He learned to fly jets for Interstate and was one of the primary people they used to do that,” Lee said. “By all accounts, he was dependable, reliable and a very good pilot.”

Christine Dempsey may be reached at