One witness reported seeing Timothy Cowper’s amateur-built one-seat biplane flying upside down for about 15 seconds before it plummeted into the trees about a half-mile away from where it took off from the Plateau Sky Ranch Airport in Edinburg in September 2013.
Another witness reported seeing the craft descend “really fast” toward the tree line, gain altitude again and then circle east before nose-diving into the tree line. A third witness was at the small airstrip when Cowper took off and assumed everything was all right until hearing his engine rev unexpectedly.
“He noticed that there was an increase in RPMs, so he turned toward the airplane and saw it ‘banked and nose down towards the ground,’ ” Ralph Hicks, the National Transportation Safety Board’s investigator-in-charge for the crash, wrote in a factual report released last week. “He observed the airplane disappear below the tree line and all went quiet.”
The report indicates that Cowper, a 55-year-old veteran state police investigator killed in the crash, died as a result of “multiple severe traumatic blunt-force injuries.” It also indicates he wasn’t drinking before takeoff and had no drugs present in his system at the time of the accident.
Still unclear is what caused Cowper to crash. The report indicates that much of the plane — a Pitts Special S-1E built by Cowper — was consumed by a fire that erupted after the initial accident.
Hicks found that the craft’s right rudder cable had separated two feet from its connection to the pedal and “exhibited signatures of overload.” The lower portion of the cockpit control stick also had evidence of overload, the investigator found, and a compression kink was observed in the push-pull tube about midway to the cockpit.
“The rod was broken at the threaded end with signatures of bending overload,” Hicks wrote.
The ailerons — part of the airplane that controls its roll — were consumed in the fire, along with much of the wings. The elements that remained, however, bore signs of overload, Hicks wrote.
The report, however, didn’t list any anomalies with the craft’s engine or the propeller. Both sustained substantial damage that was attributed to the crash.
The NTSB’s release of a factual report in the crash usually indicates the agency is about midway through its investigation. A determination of cause could be released sometime this fall.
Friends described Cowper as a man passionate about his job with the troopers and flying. He spent 30 years on the force, achieving the rank of senior investigator in 2006.
On the day of the crash, Cowper was part of a poker run — a game in which pilots fly to various small airports collecting stamps. He had just taken off when the plane did a sharp turn back toward the air strip and then did a nose-dive. He never radioed to the ground that he was in any distress.