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Report says pilot error main factor in crash

| Thursday, Feb. 3, 2005

Pilot error was a primary factor in an October plane crash in Beaver County that killed a skydiver, a recently released accident report says.

Pilot Emil Kindelberger, 81, who did not have a valid license at the time of the crash, surrendered his commercial license to the Federal Aviation Administration but said he hopes to be able to fly again.

"I hope to get a license. I feel better in a plane than I do in a car," Kindelberger said Wednesday. "I can start over and take the written and physical tests again to get a new license."

Kindelberger, who has been a pilot since the 1950s, was in his Cessna 180 when it clipped a tree Oct. 27 and crashed just after takeoff from a grass air strip next to his New Sewickley home. Nancy Elm, 47, of Bellevue, a longtime skydiver, was killed; Kindelberger and two others were hurt.

An FAA accident report obtained by the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review said the crash was "pilot induced." The other primary factors were hitting an object and loss of control, the report said. The report said the plane was not overloaded and did not have technical problems during the flight.

"I don't know what happened in the accident," Kindelberger said. "It's such an easy flight. I just got careless, I guess. ... Those trees should never have been a problem."

Kindelberger injured his right arm and hand in the crash and attends physical therapy three times a week. He said doctors inserted several pins in his hand to stabilize it.

Without Kindelberger as a pilot, the Beaver Valley Sky Divers are hoping to find someone else to fly them, said club President Karl Poruben, 59, of Troy Hill. Kindelberger owns a second Cessna 180 and hopes to have it flight-ready for the club within the year.

"(The club) will always be around, and Nancy will always be in our hearts," Poruben said. "Most of us will continue skydiving. We enjoy it -- that's all."

The Beaver Valley Sky Divers club collected $410 to donate this month to the U.S. Parachute Association Team fund in Elm's memory.

Kindelberger said he did not tell anyone he had failed his last physical. The FAA requires commercial pilots to pass physicals every year in order to keep their licenses. The accident report said Kindelberger's medical clearance was denied in February 2003.

Kindelberger underwent double-bypass heart surgery a few years ago.

"I was in the process of passing the medical exam. I passed my (heart) stress test the Friday before the accident," he said. "Those months were the only time in my life since I've been a pilot that I wasn't valid. I just kept putting off the stress test."

The plane wreckage still sits outside the hangar near Kindelberger's home, where FAA investigators pieced it back together.

Because there was no evidence of criminal recklessness, Kindelberger likely will not face charges from authorities in Beaver County, New Sewickley police Chief John Daley said in November.

"The whole accident was so crazy," Kindelberger said. "It was the last Wednesday we were going up before the winter."

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