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Chute did not open in crash

Bomb squad was called in to disable device on plane

Posted: July 8, 2012 1:55 a.m.
Updated: July 7, 2012 1:55 a.m.

An emergency parachute device didn’t deploy for the aircraft involved in a crash that killed two men near Piru, a law enforcement official said Saturday.

Blunt-force injuries were listed as the cause of death for 2011 Santa Clarita Valley Man of the Year Harry Bell, 89, of Newhall, and Michael Boolen, 59, of Pacoima, said Dr. Craig Stevens, senior deputy medical examiner for Ventura County.

Sheriff’s Department officials first responded to multiple calls from motorists who saw the plane go down at approximately 1:25 p.m. Thursday about 100 yards from Highway 126, said Capt. Bill Flannigan of the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department.

Bomb squad officials immediately were dispatched because of the presence of an explosive charge that was connected to a backup parachute, he said.

“This craft did have (a small rocket device used to deploy a parachute), and we had to call the bomb squad to render the vehicle safe before it could be approached,” Flannigan said.

Investigators who were at the scene were trying to determine why the craft’s parachute didn’t deploy, he added, but also said the National Transportation Safety Board and Federal Aviation Administration have taken over the investigation.

The “whole-plane ballistic parachute system” is a safety feature unique to the TL-Ultralight Sting Sport, according to TL-Ultralight’s website. It allows the craft’s canopy to detach from the fuselage of the plane after a trigger is pulled, activating a small rocket boost intended to lift the canopy from the craft and activate a parachute.

All circumstances surrounding the crash are being looked into, but no details regarding the plane’s safety systems could be released at this time, according to Keith Holloway of the National Transportation Safety Board.

“We’re still collecting information,” Holloway said. “We haven’t drawn any conclusions at this point, but I suspect we would have a preliminary report by the end of next week.”

There was no indication of health problems prior to the plane crash, Stevens said.

Officials with the Ventura County Medical Examiner’s Office and the Federal Aviation Administration are awaiting the results of further tests, as well as a National Transportation Safety Board investigation, before any further determination may be made on the crash’s cause.

“A full toxicology screening is a standard part of any aircraft accident,” Stevens said. “Results can take six to 12 weeks, and it’s done by both the FAA and (the Medical Examiner’s Office).”

Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Ian Gregor says the pair had taken off from Whiteman Airport in Pacoima and was expected to return there.

Bell planned to sell his ultralight aircraft and was taking it out for a final inspection flight when he crashed it, said Ed Bolden, Bell’s longtime friend and former business partner.

John Milek, of Valencia, said he regularly flies the same the type of craft that was involved in the crash out of Whiteman Airport.

A pilot’s license isn’t needed to operate the craft, he said. However, a biannual review of skills is required.

If a Sting Sport is too low to the ground and a pilot loses control, the emergency parachute system may not work, even if it is deployed, he added.

Boolen also was involved in a fatal plane crash in 1997. The licensed pilot suffered third-degree burns after a plane he was piloting crashed after takeoff, killing a flight student and a second passenger.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.



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