By RYAN DUNN
A small plane flown by a Grob Systems executive apparently caught fire before crashing in Hancock County and killing both people aboard, a federal investigation has found.
A preliminary report from the National Transportation Safety Board said witnesses saw fire prior to the July 27 crash that killed pilot Ralf Bronnenmeier, 47, of Findlay, and his passenger, Tiesha McQuin, 26, of Toledo.
Bronnenmeier was chief executive officer of Grob Systems in Bluffton.
Bronnenmeier departed a Holland, Michigan airport at about 12:36 a.m., flying his amateur-built Federsen Lancair IV-P propeller airplane, the report said. He intended to land at Bluffton Airport, according to the report.
Instead, the plane crashed at about 1:10 a.m. along Hancock County 18, between Cass Township 215 and Hancock County 216. The crash site is about five miles northeast of Findlay.
A controller with the Federal Aviation Administration last heard from Bronnenmeier at 1:09 a.m. while clearing him for approach to the airport. Bronnenmeier acknowledged the message, according to the report.
“There was no distress call or indication of any in-flight difficulties from the pilot,” according to the investigation.
Two unnamed witnesses both told federal investigators the plane was on fire before descending. One person said the fire occurred near the plane’s rear, according to the report.
The “sky lit up” as the plane crashed behind a row of trees, a witness said.
The impact crater was about 4 feet wide and 3 feet deep. Debris, including parts of the fuselage and engine, scattered 55 feet past the crash site.
“An area of burned vegetation about 110 feet by 220 feet in size was located approximately 150 feet southeast of the main impact crater,” according to the report.
Weather conditions that morning included visibility of 5 miles in mist and broken clouds at 1,300 feet above the ground, according to the Findlay Airport.
The National Transportation Safety Board has investigated at least 29 crashes of this plane model since 1996, according to its online database.
The four-seat plane, with a length of 25 feet and wingspan of 35½ feet, weighs 2,000 pounds while empty of cargo or gasoline. It can cruise at 330 miles per hour at 24,000 feet, according to Lancair International.
Although the IV-P plane is no longer manufactured, the Redmond, Oregon-based company said it continues to provide technical support.
Bronnenmeier was born in Mindelheim, Germany, and moved to the United States in 2003 before becoming chief executive officer of Grob Systems. The company makes equipment for Detroit automakers to produce engines and transmissions.