SLO pilot blamed for plane crash

March 8, 2012

Federal investigator said three pilot errors including running an engine out of gas caused a plane to crash last February in San Bernardino. [PressEnterprise]

The pilot Lonny Rollins, 39, of San Luis Obispo and his passenger and pilot Greg Fitzgerald, 61, of Paso Robles were seriously injured when their twin-engine plane crashed near the San Bernardino Airport on Feb. 7, 2011.

Rollins had reported problems with the Beechcraft Baron’s landing gear at about 11:45 a.m. and flew past the control tower so that airport personnel could check to see it the landing gear was down. It appeared down and controllers cleared him to land.

The plane crashed as it circled and approached for a landing.

Federal crash investigators said Rollins botched the procedures for dealing with the in-flight emergency.

“The pilot did not recognize the loss of power in the right engine and did not execute the proper procedures for a go-around with one engine inoperative,” according to the final report on the crash by the National Transportation Safety Board. “Contributing to the accident was the pilot’s improper in-flight fuel management, which resulted in fuel starvation of the right engine.”

The string of problems began shortly after the men took off from San Luis Obispo en route to a lunch engagement in San Bernardino, the Press Enterprise said.

“During the initial climb, the landing gear warning horn sounded,” according to the report. “The pilot diagnosed the problem, and determined that the landing gear had retracted successfully and that the indication system was in error. He continued the flight with the horn intermittently sounding.”

Upon arrival in San Bernardino, Rollins flew down the runway at low altitude so that control tower operators could look at his landing gear. He then reported he was having trouble controlling the plane.

“An on-board engine monitoring system recorded a total loss of engine power to the right engine at that time,” the report says. “The pilot did not recognize that his difficulty in maintaining altitude and … control was a result of the loss of engine power, the report says. “He subsequently lost control of the airplane, which collided (upside down) with a storage facility.”