A Michigan pilot who had left his single-engine plane at an airfield near Hartsville last year for repairs died Wednesday when he attempted to fly the vintage aircraft home.
The 1948 Temco Swift aircraft crashed into a treeline near the Williams Flying Field at 12:52 p.m. near Anderson Falls in the Hartsville area, Bartholomew County Sheriff Matt Myers said.
The pilot, identified as 77-year-old Ren Sagaert of Shelby Township, Michigan, was the sole occupant of the plane and was pronounced dead at the scene, Coroner Clayton Nolting said. An autopsy is scheduled for today, he said.
The plane has been registered since September 2012 to Sagaert, who lived north of Detroit, FAA records state.
Sagaert had just taken off in the plane from a private grass airstrip at 20950 E. County Road 200N when the crash occurred, investigators said. The airstrip is owned by Mike Williams, who does engine work on small planes from his shop, about three-quarters of a mile north of County Road 200N.
The Sagaert plane had been in a mishap that damaged its landing gear in June 2016, and Sagaert had the plane shipped to Williams for repairs, said Steve Wilson, a retired National Transportation Safety Board investigator. Wilson knows Williams and spoke with him Wednesday afternoon a few hours after the crash, he said.
Williams had completed the repairs by January and Sagaert told him he would pick it up in April, Wilson said.
Williams told Wilson he had offered to do a flight test on the plane several times, but Sagaert declined, saying he would fly it when he arrived to pick it up, Wilson said.
Williams had taxied the plane around the airfield, testing the engine and brakes, but had not tested the plane in the air, Wilson said.
When Sagaert took off on Wednesday, the engine was running strong, but the landing gear of the tail-wheel aircraft remained down, which was unusual, Wilson said after talking with Williams. The airplane took a sharp turn to the left and flipped upside down, going into the tree line, Williams told Wilson.
Although a witness had told Bartholomew County Sheriff’s deputies the engine ran strong, then cut out before the crash, Williams told Wilson the engine continued to run as the plane crashed after an abrupt left turn and flipped over.
Wilson said the plane at liftoff would have been traveling 60 to 65 mph, accelerating to a speed of 90 to 100 mph as it climbed into the air.
Wilson said Williams told him that landing gear retraction tests had been done and Williams was unsure why the gear did not retract as it should have.
Sagaert’s body was removed from the scene shortly before 3 p.m. Wednesday in an unmarked coroner’s vehicle.
Media was not allowed at the crash scene as investigators waited for the NTSB investigators to arrive and begin the investigation.
Although the plane did not catch fire upon crashing, some fuel leaked from its 56-gallon fuel tank, Columbus Fire Department Deputy Chief Andy Lay said.
Measures had to be taken so fuel did not leak into the nearby Fall Fork of Clifty Creek, he said.
Jim Fritsche, who lives just west of the airstrip, told investigators he heard the engine start as if it were taking off, but then heard it cut out, followed by a loud bang. A witness went to the wooded crash site to give aid, but it’s believed the pilot died instantly, Myers said.
With sunshine and a cool northerly breeze, conditions were ideal for flying, said Tom Earnhart of Hope, a licensed pilot and a friend of Williams. In addition, the freshly mowed grass airstrip was in good shape, Earnhart said.
The plane that crashed near Hartsville is believed to involve one of only about 300 Temco Swift aircraft still flying, said Pam Nunley, executive director of the Swift Museum Foundation of Athens, Tennessee.
Wilson, who owns two Swift planes and is rehabbing two others at his home in Granbury, Texas, said he did not know Sagaert.
Wilson said Williams also owns a Swift, along with doing work repairing them for other pilots.
Most of the Swift aircraft were built from 1946 to 1951 in Fort Worth or Dallas, Texas, marketed as a recreational opportunity for returning World War II pilots, Nunley said. The museum foundation has about 700 members who keep in touch about their planes and build friendships through their passion for this particular type of aircraft, Nunley said.
“We like to think of it as being a family here at the foundation,” Nunley said. “These people are all friends with each other.”
Wilson said the all-metal, two-seat Swift planes, a tail-wheel aircraft, can travel at about 145 to 165 miles per hour at a maximum height of about 16,000 feet, and almost all of the planes still flying have modified engines to increase their horsepower.
The all-grass airfield that Williams uses would be adequate for a Swift plane to take off or land, Wilson said, as the planes need about 1,000 feet and do not require pavement runways. Williams’ airfield has a 3,200-foot area for takeoffs and landings, Wilson said.
“It’s not a hard airplane to fly, but it’s not for a beginner,” said Wilson, 77.
Wilson said the NTSB will likely spend several days at the crash site and it will be up to a year before a written report on the accident is issued. The agency will likely issue a preliminary accident report in about 10 days, he said.
About the Temco Swift
General specifications of the Temco Swift airplane
Seats: 2 (1 crew, 1 passenger)
Classification: Tail-wheel, low-wing aircraft
Engine power: 125 hp, although many engines have been modified to 145 to 165 hp by owners.
Maximum speed: 185 mph
Cruising speed: 140 mph
Height: 6 feet, 2 inches
Length: 20 feet, 10 inches
Empty weight: 1,370 pounds
Maximum weight: 1,975 pounds
Production: 1946-1951, with about 1,100 produced in Fort Worth, Texas and 400 in Dallas, Texas
Source: flugzeuginfo.net, an online civil and military aircraft encyclopedia and Swift Museum Foundation, Athens, Tennessee
Fatal air crashes in Bartholomew County
Wednesday’s aviation fatality is the third in Bartholomew County in the past 15 years.
Pilot Gerald H. Clayton, 81, of Columbus, died Aug. 2, 2013, which was eight days after his two-seat plane crashed into a home on the north side of Columbus. Clayton, an experienced pilot, and passenger Dennis King, 60 at the time and also from Columbus, both suffered burns from flames that ignited during the crash.
Mukesh K. Gupta of Macon, 25, a commercial pilot from Georgia, died in an air crash on July 18, 2002, when a twin-engine Piper PA-60 cargo plane, operated by Grand Aire Express, was destroyed in the early morning when it crashed in thick fog.
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This is happening more frequently and there should be an investigation
I now of the problems and figuring out what the problem is, the hostin
I don't know if it's just me or if perhaps everybody else encountering
Paul Blankenship · Top Commenter · School of Hard Knocks Mr. Shelton