The kit-built airplane that killed a jogger on Hilton Head Island last year lost power because it had a damaged crankshaft, probably caused by the propeller hitting an object sometime earlier, the National Transportation Safety Board has concluded.
Lawyers for the plane's pilot and the jogger's widow, however, both dispute the board's conclusion and suspect the crankshaft was defective.
Brian McCormack, an attorney for the widow, said the board's conclusion is "pure speculation" that resulted from an investigation authorities performed side-by-side with the engine's manufacturer, Teledyne Continental Motors.
McCormack, who believes Teledyne is at fault, said more tests will be conducted in September."We believe there are issues with the metal itself used to manufacture the crankshaft," he said.
Jeremiah Denton, an attorney for pilot Edward I. Smith of Chesapeake, Va., also thinks the crankshaft was defective.
Denton said he has spoken with the engine's previous owners, all of whom told him the propeller never hit anything.
"We don't know of (a previous strike), and we've investigated that pretty thoroughly," he said.
Attempts late Tuesday to reach Teledyne for comment were unsuccessful.
Pharmaceutical salesman Robert Gary Jones of Woodstock, Ga., was listening to his iPod as he jogged on the beach when the plane hit him from behind as it prepared to make an emergency landing on the beach on March 15, 2010.
The board, in its report on the probable cause of the accident, said parts of the propeller from the single-engine Lancair IV-P were never recovered after the crash.
But fatigue cracks on the crankshaft "suggest the propeller had struck an object prior to the fracture of the crankshaft," the NTSB report said. Investigators added that records for the engine and the airplane did not show an entry of a propeller strike.
"In the absence of material anomalies, the fatigue cracking appears likely to have been caused by external impact stress," the report said. It concluded the cause of the accident was "a loss of engine power due to the failure of the crankshaft as a result of a previously undocumented propeller strike."
Smith was flying with a passenger from Orlando, Fla., to Virginia when the aircraft lost its propeller and started leaking oil at about 13,000 feet.
The pilot reported a loud bang and oil from the damaged engine smearing the windshield. The plane lost altitude, and the pilot chose to make an emergency landing on the beach, the report said.
Authorities have said Jones probably didn't know the plane was descending behind him with a dead engine. Smith and the passenger walked away from the crash.
The crash is the subject of a federal-court wrongful death and negligence lawsuit filed in Beaufort by Jones' widow.
The suit alleges the pilot and four companies that manufactured and serviced the plane didn't properly test, design or manufacture the aircraft and its parts. It also alleges they were aware of other fatal accidents caused by failures of the plane or its parts.
In court responses, the companies denied the allegations. And the manufacturers say the parts they made were misused or modified after they were sold.
Smith, in his answer, also denies the allegations in the lawsuit. He has filed a cross claim against the four companies saying their negligence exposed him to the lawsuit.
His claim asks to recover from them any damages he incurs as a result of the lawsuit.
Staff writer Josh McCann and Bruce Smith of The Associated Press contributed.