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‘Worst-case scenario’ led to plane’s 1.5-mile ghost flight and crash near Central City
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‘Worst-case scenario’ led to plane’s 1.5-mile ghost flight and crash near Central City

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Runaway Plane

An unoccupied airplane took off from the Central City Airport on Tuesday and crashed into a field nearly 1.5 miles away.

The small plane that flew away on its own from the Central City airport Tuesday night didn’t have an ignition switch — and that was the key to its 1.5-mile unmanned flight.

Merrick County deputies were dispatched at about 7:30 p.m. to a plane that had crashed into a cornfield southwest of the airport, and they found a cloth-winged 1941 Piper Cub on its back. But they didn’t find a pilot.

They learned a mechanic had been working on the plane when it roared to life, took off and managed to climb an estimated 200 feet.

Here’s how that happened, said Denise Ziemba, emergency manager for Boone, Nance and Merrick counties: The mechanic was attempting to start the plane, which requires hand-cranking its propeller because it doesn’t have an ignition switch.

He must not have realized the throttle was wide open and the flaps were set just right, she said. The plane was poised to fly.

“And when he hand-turned the propeller, the worst-case scenario happened.”

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It’s unclear how many human-piloted planes have taken off without humans. The National Transportation Safety Board investigates U.S. aircraft accidents, but its definition of an aircraft accident requires a human to be on board during the incident, spokesman Peter Knudson said Thursday.

“There was no person on board the aircraft so it would not meet the definition of ‘accident’ for our purposes,” he said. “We do investigate accidents involving unmanned aircraft systems, but this was not one of those.”

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7254 or psalter@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSPeterSalter

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