Bad weather blamed in Block Island plane crash — (Providence Journal)

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Providence Journal

06:37 AM EDT on Saturday, May 3, 2008

By Katie Mulvaney, Journal Staff Writer

NEW SHOREHAM ­ A pilot’s poor decision to take off in bad weather likely led to the plane crash that killed three in July 2006 on Block Island, investigators have concluded. White Plains, N.Y., surgeon William P. Homan, his wife, Valerie, and mother, Betty, died July 5, 2006, when Homan’s Piper Cherokee Arrow crashed through trees about a half-mile from Block Island State Airport shortly after takeoff. The plane was bound ­ in stormy weather shortly after noon with Dr. Homan at the controls ­ for Westchester County, N.Y., Airport.

National Transportation Safety Board investigators concluded in a March 31 report that Homan’s “inadequate preflight decision making” and failure to clear trees near the airport probably caused the crash. Low hanging clouds, rain and thunderstorms were named as contributing factors. Air controllers in Providence cleared Homan for takeoff at 12:06 p.m. after advising him of moderate rains over the airport and heavy precipitation to the south and west, the report says. He was flying in instrument conditions in which the ceiling was lower than 1,000 feet and visibility less than three miles. A witness told investigators that he saw the plane depart in very heavy rain with thunder. He lost sight of it in the rain and clouds when it climbed to 300 feet. Moments later a man working on his boat nearby heard a plane engine followed by a ripping sound.

About three hours later, police officers found the wreckage, followed by a trail of debris, in a wooded area. Of the passengers, only a 12-year-old Maine coon cat, Sebastian, survived. The report shows that an autopsy determined Homan, 58, had recently taken bupropion and fluoxetine ­ prescription antidepressants ­ and oxcarbazepine, a mildly impairing antiseizure medication used to treat pain and manic depression.

The FAA would not typically approve of the use of any of the medications, investigators said, and Homan did not indicate their use or a diagnosis for which they would be used in his most recent application for an airman medical certificate. They could not conclusively establish what role the medications, or conditions for which they might have been taken, played in the crash. Homan held a private pilot’s license for single-engine planes, with a rating that allowed him to fly using instruments. He logged about 1,125 hours of flight time, 230 in instrument conditions. The plane had been inspected two months earlier. A White Plains native, Homan was a renowned surgeon who specialized in treating morbidly obese patients with stomach-bypass surgery. He was director of the bariatric surgery program at White Plains Hospital Center in New York. The Homans owned a house on Mill Pond Lane on the island. kmulvane@projo.com