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Unsolved Mystery: Plane crash remains under investigation after nearly 2 years

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By Tris DeRoma

The National Transportation Safety Board has yet to release a final report on a plane crash that killed two Los Alamos National Laboratory employees – the pilot and the plane’s only passenger – on March 11, 2016.

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The pilot was Karen Young, 46, and the passenger was Thomas Spickermann, 53. Young and Spickermann were employees at Los Alamos National Laboratory and worked in the same division. Young was a Los Alamos resident and Spickermann lived in Hernandez.

NTSB Chief of Media Relations Chris O’Neil said the case is still active and under investigation.

“The investigation into the aviation accident (March 11, 2016, Espanola, NM, case number CEN16FA122) remains under investigation. It generally takes 12 to 24 months for the NTSB to complete the investigation of a fatal general aviation accident,” O’Neil said in an email Wednesday.

An initial report is available online at the NTSB website. The report does assign any fault or cause of the accident.

The report instead focused on conditions leading up to the crash.

The airplane was a 2009 Remos GX, rented from New Mexico Sport Aviation.

Young flew the plane out of Santa Fe Municipal Airport and practiced take offs and landings at the Los Alamos County Airport and the Ohkey Owingeh Airport near Española.

At the time of the accident, which investigators said was around 4:30 p.m., Young was taking off and landing at the Ohkay Owingeh Airport, which is near Española.

An eyewitness to the accident told investigators he saw the airplane making left turns, and when it was turning from the crosswind to the downwind leg of the turn, “he heard a reduction in engine power and saw the airplane descend nose first toward the ground,” according to the preliminary report.

The plane’s fuel tank had a capacity of 22 gallons, and the plane’s fuel tanks were “topped off” before it took off, according to investigators.

“A review of fueling records established that the airplane fuel tanks were topped off before the accident flight departed SAF (Santa Fe Municipal Airport),” a statement in the report said.

Maintenance records showed no history of outstanding maintenance problems or issues, according to the report. A partial examination of the engine showed no mechanical failures in the crankshaft, connecting rods and pistons.

An examination of Young’s aviation records revealed that she was a pilot in good standing. There were no previous accidents, enforcement proceedings or safety incidents. She had 132.9 of flight time, 41.8 of those as a pilot.

Will Fox, a member of Chapter 691 of the Experimental Aircraft Association, said in a previous Los Alamos Monitor article on the accident that Young was naturally curious about things and enthusiastic about aviation.

“Karen was an incredibly enthusiastic young lady, real quick with a smile,” Fox said. “Very outgoing, a very positive person … very inquisitive. If she wanted to find out about something she wouldn’t hesitate to call you and ask you questions till she wore you out. She reminded me a lot of her dad.”

At the time of the accident, Spickermann also belonged to Chapter 691 of the Experimental Aircraft Association, where he served as the eaa691.net’s webmaster and newsletter publisher. He loved to build airplanes and had built and owned at least one, a Zenith CH750 STOL.

Fox also said in the same article that Spickermann was never one to brag about his accomplishments, but instead wanted to instill the same love of flying and building that he had into others.

“As soon as he got done, he started giving everybody rides,” Fox said, about Spickermann’s completed Zenith. “He used to say that if he could build one, then anyone could build one.”