Niagara Gazette

Local News

August 11, 2010

Skydiver plane crash cause confirmed

Pilot distraction led to Aug. 1’s crash at Hollands International Airport

NIAGARA FALLS — The Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board confirmed Wednesday morning the skydiving plane crash Aug. 1 at Hollands International Airport was caused after the pilot attempted to secure another rider who almost fell out of the plane upon takeoff.

This investigation confirmed the Niagara County Sheriff’s Office’s hypothesis from last week after officials spoke with the pilot and four skydivers about the incident.

“The pilot became distracted, which resulted in the airplane veering left toward trees, flying at a low airspeed,” Luke Schiada of the NTSB said. “The airplane subsequently struck a set of trees and impacted the ground.”

According to a report from the NTSB, pilot Paul E. Gath, 68, of Arcade, reportedly told FAA and NTSB investigators, after takeoff, the jump door opened and he attempted to stop one of the experienced parachutists who attempted to secure the door.

“The pilot yelled at him to stop, however, the parachutist continued to attempt to secure the door to the point where he was partially outside of the airplane,” the report said.

“The pilot physically grabbed the parachutist and tried to pull him back into the airplane,” Schiada said.

Gath said he was not concerned with the open door, just the skydiver trying to close it.

“The open door would not have impacted the flight. These planes are made to fly with open doors. They’re skydiving planes,” Gath said.

As Gath’s seventh ride of the day escorting skydivers from the Frontier Skydiving Club, he said included in the airplane with him was a jump instructor, a student skydiver, a videographer and two experienced jumpers. The two experienced jumpers reportedly intended to exit the airplane at an altitude of 5,000 feet and the parachute instructor planned to conduct a tandem jump with the student from an altitude of 12,500 feet.

A report said an examination of the airplane by an FAA inspector did not reveal any mechanical malfunctions nor was weather an issue in the crash.

“The pilot reported that the airplane performed as expected without any mechanical issues,” Schiada said.

According to the NTSB report, Gath reported more than 4,010 hours of total flight experience, including 300 reported hours in a Cessna A185F, which crashed.

Niagara County Sheriff James R. Voutour, even after almost two weeks since the crash, calls it a “miracle” the injuries were not more substantial after the plane split into five pieces, but gives his best to the family of Thomas “Toma” Medbury who mourned his loss at Wednesday’s funeral.

“It’s nothing short of a tragedy, but a blessing to the others involved for the sake of their lives,” Voutour said.

The plane was carrying a pilot and five skydivers when it crashed at about 2:20 p.m. in a wooded area at the end of a 2,875-foot grass runway at Hollands International Airport on Beebe Road in the Town of Newfane. The group belonged to Frontier Skydivers Club, which is based at the airport.

Among the riders in the crash were Gath; Tonya Tiede, 42, of Batavia; Christian Herboth, 38, of North Tonawanda; Joseph King, 46, of Elma; Michael Maly Jr., 35, of Cheektowaga and Medbury, 54, of Akron.

While five of the six riders were treated and release from Erie County Medical Center the day after the crash, Medbury was pronounced dead at ECMC Saturday after nearly a week in critical condition at the hospital’s Trauma Unit.

At a memorial service held at Charles Meyer Funeral Home Tuesday and burial at St. John’s R.C. Church in Alden, Wednesday, hundreds gathered to remember their beloved family member and friend.

Members of the Frontier Skydivers Club said everyone in the club is like “one big family.”

“He was a pioneer to us,” Maly Jr., said. “Someone we’re all going to miss.”

After the crash Maly Jr. was able to perform two rounds of CPR on Medbury who was initially found without a pulse on the ground pinned by a piece of the plane by two farmers nearby.

“I was alive and OK, I just though about helping whoever I could,” Maly said.

As a skydiving coach, and 20-year veteran of the activity, Medbury made more than 2,000 jumps, including a record-setting jump performed in 2006 when he and 17 other parachutists made an 18-way free fall formation in Genesee County.

Cleanup from the crash was completed last weekend by plane owner, Mark Mekker, whose plane was completely destroyed in the crash. Also a recording from the Frontier Skydivers Club said skydiving at the airport reopened Wednesday after a brief recess for cleanup efforts.

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