Cause of gyroplane crash that killed Bluffton man remains mystery

astice@islandpacket.comJuly 30, 2012 

Investigator's in Wrens, Ga. are shown studying the June 8th wreckage crashed gyroplane which killed Bluffton resident Christopher William Bowen.


It could take as long as a year to determine the cause of a gyroplane crash in June in Wrens, Ga., that killed a Bluffton man, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.

Its preliminary report indicates 54-year-old Christopher William Bowen was headed toward power lines just before the craft hit the ground.

At about 4:45 p.m. June 8, Bowen's home-built gyroplane took off from the Wrens Memorial Airport for a test run over the fields nearby. A gyroplane piloted by Barry Kroeplin of Charlotte was close behind.

Kroeplin told investigators he didn't notice any abnormalities in Bowen's craft, according to the report. The two men had signed up for the Wrens-O.B. Brown Memorial Fly-In.

Soon after takeoff for the test run, Bowen's gyroplane took a sharp left turn, hit the ground and caught fire.

A second witness saw Bowen's gyroplane flying 50 to 70 feet over the fields just before the crash. The witness said the gyroplane was approaching and level with a set of power lines above the field, according to the report.

Before reaching the power lines, the gyroplane made a 180-degree left turn, then hit the ground.

"The witness stated that the gyroplane appeared to be 'almost on its side' as it turned," the report said.

Most of the aircraft was destroyed by the fire, according to a Federal Aviation Administration inspector. The main rotor was separated from the airframe and found in a nearby tree, the report said.

Jefferson County emergency manager Jim Anderson said his staff collected the debris and moved it to a secure place for inspection.

A gyroplane's takeoff is similar to an airplane's -- it rolls down a runway, pushed by a propeller, and then ascends. But instead of having wings for lift, it has freely turning rotor blades above the pilot's seat, similar to a helicopter's rotor. The craft also is known as a "gyrocopter."

Bowen, who got his student pilot's license in May 2010 and registered the plane a few months later, had worked on helicopters while serving in the military, his wife, Rosemary, said Monday.

Kroeplin told The Augusta (Ga.) Chronicle soon after the crash that Bowen was a good pilot and that the two men had been participating in the same events for several years.

Rosemary Bowen said flying was one of her husband's passions.

"It was something he really and thoroughly loved doing, and I couldn't tell him no," she said.

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