The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has completed their initial investigation into a Harrisburg plane crash that killed a family of three and the pilot flying the aircraft, and has released a preliminary report on the crash. While the preliminary report does not identify the cause of the Oregon plane crash, it sheds further light on the conditions under which the crash took place. Investigators will continue to examine the crash to determine which factors led up to the tragic plane crash.
Oregon Plane Crash Killed All Onboard
On April 7, 2017, at 7:20 a.m., the single-engine Piper PA-46-310P departed Van Nuys, California bound for Eugene, Oregon, according to the Linn County Sheriff’s Office. The plane was piloted by Mark Gregory Aletky and was carrying the Zitting family (42-year-old John A. Zitting, his wife, 37-year-old Karen Blackmore Zitting, and their son, John Brendan Zitting, who went by “Brendan”).
After more than three hours of flying, the aircraft flew past Eugene Airport for unknown reasons, and then made a sharp turn before crashing around 10:46 a.m. north of Harrisburg, about 100 miles south of Portland and 10 miles north of Eugene Airport. All four on board were pronounced dead at the accident scene.
At the time of the accident, Linn County Sheriff Bruce Riley gave two possible factors for the crash, but expressed that the cause was still unknown.
“We don’t know whether it’s weather related and/or mechanical,” Riley stated. He continued on to say that all they knew initially was that witnesses had reported concerns about the plane’s altitude.
“No indication of any issues other than it was flying a little low,” Riley added. “That’s what drew their attention to it—that it was loud and low.”
Witness Reported Piper Plane Flying Low Prior to Crash
Knife River Prestress, a local concrete company, is located only about two miles from the Harrisburg plane crash site, and several employees there witnessed the plane flying low and the subsequent crash.
Speaking with Oregon Live, Tom Walker said he was in the company’s yard when he heard the sound of a low-flying plane and looked up to see the aircraft flying close to the treeline.
“They were flying normal,” Walker said. “All of a sudden, it flipped on its side, then headed straight down toward the ground in a nosedive.”
Dusty Andrews was one of the Knife River Prestress workers who drove to the scene after witnesses saw the crash. Andrews, who also works as a volunteer firefighter, said that all four occupants of the plane were deceased by the time they arrived, and that it appeared the plane had gone straight into the ground, nose first.
Wind and Poor Visibility Were Factors in Harrisburg Plane Crash
One of the details provided by the NTSB preliminary report was confirmation that the six-seat 1984 Piper PA-46-310P was flying in severe winds with moderate to severe turbulence at the time of the crash. The report, however, does not list these conditions as a cause of the crash. According to NTSB spokesman Peter Knudson, information on the cause could take as much as a year to be identified and released.
Meanwhile, National Weather Service meteorologist Colby Neuman described conditions at Eugene Airport around the time of the crash as including winds south to north at 20 miles per hour, with gusts up to 30 miles per hour, and a light rain was falling.
Californian Family Was Flying to Tour University of Oregon
The Zittings, who lived in Thousand Oaks, California, were on their way to Eugene for a campus tour of the University of Oregon, a school they were considering for Brendan, who was their only son. John Zitting’s brother, Mark Zitting, said in an interview with the Los Angeles Daily News that 17-year old Brendan was doing exceptionally well in school.
“Brendan was a great student, top of his class, on the swim team,” Zitting recalled. “He was a very smart, fun young man to be around and know.”
He had similar praise for the entire Zitting family, who had moved from Utah to California about seven years prior and had started a construction management company called TruNorthe LLC.
“We were definitely not expecting this because (John) lived life to the fullest,” Zitting said. “He had a yacht, and they spent a lot of time on the ocean when they could. They were all great examples and good people.”
According to Mark Zitting, who lives in Heber City, Utah, his brother John was one of 12 siblings.
Pilot Killed in Crash Was Experienced With Piper Plane
Mark Aletky, a 67-year-old who lived in Acton, California and had three children, was piloting the plane, and was also killed in the crash. His son Joseph Aletky says his father was very familiar with the aircraft.
Speaking with Oregon Live Joseph Aletky said that his father had logged thousands of hours in a variety of planes and had Piper PA-46-310P specific training before the day of the crash.
“He was extraordinary in his ability,” Joseph Aletky emphasized. “He’s not the type to panic.”
The younger Aletky also spoke of his father’s transition from being a professional drummer to becoming a pilot at the age of 45.
Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) records show that Mark Aletky received his commercial pilot’s license in November of 2011 and that he was licensed to fly both single and multi-engine planes. FAA records also show that Aletky received his instructor’s license in October of 2016.
Investigation Into Harrisburg Plane Crash to Continue
The NTSB will lead the ongoing investigation into the Harrisburg plane crash with assistance from the FAA, which will provide information and data including pilot training records and aircraft records.
NTSB investigators have already travelled to the site of the Harrisburg plane crash to conduct an in-person investigation. A further investigation into the cause of the small plane crash will be conducted remotely.