MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- The National Transportation Safety Board investigation of the plane crash that killed Sen. Paul Wellstone and seven others includes an unusually strong focus on the qualifications of the two pilots, a former NTSB investigator says.
According to the NTSB report released Friday, some pilots interviewed by investigators questioned the skill levels of pilot Richard Conry and co-pilot Michael Guess and investigators found problems in Conry's past that included an undisclosed felony fraud conviction, logbook inconsistencies and falsification of a medical form.
Chuck Leonard, a retired senior investigator who worked on more than 200 NTSB investigations, told the Star Tribune that the negative reports from fellow pilots were "very unusual" because "most pilots will only say great things" or at least "hesitate to bash" colleagues who die in crashes.
The last time a major NTSB report included a major focus on the background of a pilot was in the mid-1990s when a commuter plane crashed in North Carolina, Leonard said. In that case, he said, investigators found pilot error as the probable cause. The pilot had been dismissed by previous employers on performance grounds, he said.
In the Oct. 25 Wellstone crash, the NTSB did establish that both pilots -- who died along with Wellstone, his wife and daughter and three campaign workers -- were properly licensed.
Leonard said the NTSB report is still missing important pieces, including information about the airplane's airworthiness and performance. The safety board has said "months of work" remain before fact-gathering is complete. After that, investigators will report all findings to board members, who will determine a probable cause.
Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., Rep. Jim Oberstar, D-Minn., said the NTSB's factual report showed a number of factors that could have contributed to the crash of the twin turboprop charter plane, including that it was piloted during icing conditions by a flight crew with a shaky record.
Oberstar credited the safety board for its "meticulous, millimeter-by-millimeter reviews" that have pieced together the causes of numerous aviation accidents, even when most evidence has been destroyed.
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