By JOHN GREEN
Special to The Telegram
Investigators say a Scott City pilot who crashed his plane near a Topeka airport in April 2011, killing himself and his family, likely became disoriented while attempting to land using flight instruments in heavily overcast and rainy conditions.
Dylan Spencer, who was a Scott County commissioner, had 11 hours of flying time in "instrument conditions," but less than an hour of actual "instrument time" since he'd received his rating to fly relying on instruments rather than sight, according to a "probable cause" report recently posted by the National Transportation Safety Board.
The Spencer family was flying from Scott City to Topeka for an Easter visit April 22, 2011, when the plane crashed in a muddy field near Topeka's Philip Billard Airport. The accident killed Spencer, 35; his wife, Amy Spencer, 34; and their two children, Chase, 7, and Ansley, 5.
The family had flown from Scott City that morning, and Spencer attempted a landing at the Topeka-area airport just after noon.
Spencer missed the airport when first arriving, according to the report, and asked to be allowed to circle to land. Weather conditions at the airport at the time were reported as a 500-foot overcast ceiling and a light rain.
He overshot the runway on his first attempt to land, breaking out of the clouds past the runway approach and too high to touch down. Spencer then asked the control tower to be allowed to attempt a "missed approach" using a global positioning satellite.
"The pilot was maneuvering in instrument meteorological conditions (IMC) to set up for the GPS approach when the airplane departed controlled flight and impacted terrain," the NTSB report stated.
"Crush angles on fragmented pieces of the airplane indicated the airplane struck the ground in a left descending turn at high speed. Radar data showed the airplane maneuvering north-northeast of the airport in a left descending turn before it disappeared from radar.
"It is likely that that the pilot became disoriented while maneuvering in IMC to set up for the GPS approach and lost control of the airplane," the report stated. "Contributing to the accident was the pilot's minimal experience flying in actual instrument conditions."
According to his logbook, Spencer had 438 total flying hours. Of that total, 28.7 hours were in multi-engine airplanes and 17.5 hours in the Beech 58, which is what he was flying that day. The logbook showed he had 50 hours of simulated instrument time but only 0.7 hours of actual instrument flight since he passed his instrument proficiency check Nov. 10, 2010.
In the months after the crash, friends of the Spencers and fellow fliers at Scott City raised money to set up a flight training center dedicated to the family. The 40-by-40-foot Spencer Flight and Education Center at the Scott City Municipal Airport features a state-of-the-art Redbird FMX full-motion flight simulator, as well as a classroom and library.