Wiggins Airways plane missed approach at Maine airport before fatal crash

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The location marker shows the spot where a Wiggins Airways cargo plane on a training flight crashed in Maine Aug. 22. A preliminary National Transportation Safety Board report says that the airplane missed an approach at the Auburn, Maine, airport and was in a holding pattern when it crashed at coordinates 44.16407, -70.00038. Image/Google maps

LITCHFIELD, MAINE – A Wiggins Airways training flight that crashed in Litchfield, Maine, in August, killing the two pilots, missed its approach to the Auburn, Maine, airport runway and was in a holding pattern when it descended rapidly, according to a preliminary report from the National Transportation Safety Board.

The report said the cause of the crash still hasn’t been determined. NTSB officials have said that a full report will take more than a year to complete. Because the report is preliminary, its determinations are subject to change, NTSB officials said.

Pilots James Shepard-Kegl, 69, of North Yarmouth, Maine, and Jumaaine Omari Stanley Melville, 37, of St. Petersburg, Florida, were killed in the Aug. 22 crash. Shepard-Kegl was an experienced pilot, with 14,700 hours logged as of a year ago. Melville was training, and had 1,302 hours, according to the NTSB report.

The Beechcraft C-99 belonged to Wiggins Airways, a Manchester, NH-based cargo hauler that flies to 12 states and transports for UPS and FedEx. The cargo company has regular flights between Manchester-Boston Regional Airport and Auburn-Lewiston Municipal Airport

It was Melville’s third training flight for Wiggins, where he had recently started working, according to the report. Shepard-Kegl had worked for the cargo hauler for several years.

NTSB investigator Ralph Hicks said in August that both pilots had access to the controls. He said that there is no black box on an airplane that size that can give an indication of what happened, and the pilots had not been in contact with air control at Auburn-Lewiston Municipal Airport.

No flight plan had been filed, according to the report. It’s not required to file a flight plan with a training flight, according to industry experts.

The plane took off from Auburn-Lewiston Municipal Airport at 5:08 p.m. and flew southwest, turned around and began making an instrument landing system approach to the airport.

“The airplane performed a missed approach and proceeded to the northeast,” the report said. When the airplane reached its missed approach holding fix, a spot a pilot navigates to after scuttling an approach, the airplane entered a left holding pattern. At the time the airplane was at 3,000 feet and traveling 214 mph.

“While completing the first turn of the holding pattern, the airplane entered a steep descent and subsequently impacted terrain,” the report said.

Initial reports last month were that the airplane was seeking to land at the airport in Wales, Maine, which is a private grass landing strip. This week’s NTSB report doesn’t mention the Wales strip, which was near the crash site, but makes clear the pilots were seeking to land in Auburn, where they’d taken off.

The airplane crashed at 5:41 p.m., 32 minutes after it took off. On its approach back to the airport, it descended to 531 feet and slowed to 140 mph as it neared the airport nine minutes before the crash, according to flightware.com tracking. Then it missed the approach, and ascended, picking up speed, and entered a holding pattern.

A certified pilot who lives near the crash site was working on a project in his driveway in Wales, Maine, when he saw the airplane heading north at an altitude he estimated to be 3,000-4,000 feet, the report said.

“He recognized the airplane as a ‘Beech 99.’ The engines sounded ‘very smooth,’” the report said. “He watched the airplane proceed over his house and looked away for a few seconds. When he looked up again, the airplane was in a ‘steep dive’ and heading toward Oak Hill. From that moment on, he did not see the airplane alter its course or attitude. As it descended, the wings remained level and the engines still sounded smooth. The airplane disappeared behind trees, and he then heard a ‘loud boom.’ “

The area where the plane crashed is largely rural and forested, with some farms and lakes. It’s halfway between Lewiston-Auburn and Maine’s capital city, Augusta.

The accident site near Oak Hill Road in Litchfield was partially cleared of timber, but most of the wreckage was “in dense forest,” the report said. The airplane first hit the tops of 50-foot oak trees at coordinates 44.16407, -70.00038. It then hit soft soil about 140 feet from the first tree strikes.

Investigators determined that the airplane’s descent angle was about 20 degrees and the bank angle was about 10 degrees, with right-wing low.

The crash didn’t result in a fire, but the airframe was heavily fragmented, the report said. The wreckage path was about 424 feet long and about 100 feet wide.

The day was clear with 10 miles visibility and wind speeds about 10 knots at the time of the crash, according to the report.

The cargo plane made regular trips between MHT and the Auburn airport, according to tracking information on flightaware.com.

The plane had arrived in Auburn from Manchester at 8:06 a.m. Tuesday, Aug. 22, after a 30-minute flight. The airplane’s last previous flight was Monday, Aug. 21, from Manchester to Auburn, taking off at 6:35 p.m., landing at 7:04 p.m., then returning to Manchester at 7:33 p.m. and landing at 8 p.m.


About this Author

Maureen Milliken

Maureen Milliken is a contract reporter and content producer for consumer financial agencies. She has worked for northern New England publications, including the New Hampshire Union Leader, for 25 years, and most recently at Mainebiz in Portland, Maine. She can be found on LinkedIn and Twitter.