CHATHAM, La. (KTAL/KMSS) – Ice may have been a factor in the Jackson Parish plane crash that killed three men from the Shreveport-Bossier area earlier this month.
Chris Mudd, Wade Williams, and pilot Robert Gilliam died in the crash in Chatham on February 6. Mudd and Williams were from Shreveport-Bossier and pilot Robert Gilliam was from Minden. The single-engine Cessna was heading from Jackson, Mississippi, to Shreveport in northwest Louisiana when it crashed north of Chatham on Louisiana Highway 34. Chatham is about 18 miles southeast of Ruston.
According to a preliminary report released Thursday by the National Transportation Safety Board, radar showed that the aircraft was flying at about 6,000 feet when Gilliam contacted Monroe Air Traffic Control to report that he was encountering rime ice and asked for permission to descend to a lower altitude. When air traffic control cleared the plane to descend to 4,000 feet, Gilliam asked what the chances were he could be cleared to go to 2,000 feet, but the NTSB report says he was told 3,000 feet was the lowest he could go.
Five minutes later, Gilliam asked if he could go to 3,000 feet and then asked to divert to Ruston Regional Airport to remove ice from the airplane. He was cleared to head to Ruston, but radar contact was lost before it reached the first stage of approach at the airport. The preliminary NTSB report says the data they’ve gathered indicates the aircraft slowed down and descended rapidly before radar contact was lost. The report notes that other than the report of ice, no distress calls were received from the pilot.
The Cessna crashed nose-down next to a logging company building and caught fire.
The preliminary report says investigators did not find anything indicating issues with the engine or the flight control systems in the wings that would indicate there was a mechanical problem before the crash and fire.
The report also noted that a preliminary weather study of the area revealed that several other aircraft in the area at the time reported ice at various altitudes near the accident location. The nearest weather reporting facility, which is about 14 miles northeast of the accident site, reported the cloud ceiling in the area at about 1,100 feet overcast. The temperature was 2 degrees C and dew point -1 degrees C, which close to the freezing point for water.
The NTSB has said that Robert Gilliam was an experienced pilot with a lot of flight time.
The final NTSB report can take anywhere from 12 to 24 months to complete.