Preliminary Report: Seven people in six-seat Baron 58P

 - May 9, 2008, 7:48 AM

BEECH BARON 58P, SWANZEY, N.H., SEPT. 2, 2002–Beech Baron N6688D crashed near Swanzey, N.H., at about 11 a.m. EDT, killing the private pilot and all six passengers. According to the airplane manufacturer, the airplane was certified for six occupants, including the pilot. The flight was on an instrument flight plan operating in VMC. Weather is not considered to be a factor.

Julia Coyle, daughter of West Virginia’s 20th governor, and her husband George Coyle were killed in the crash. The Coyles’ daughter and son-in-law, Julia and Steve Gruver, were also killed, as were the Gruvers’ three daughters. The aircraft was owned and operated by Steve Gruver, a multi-engine- and instrument-rated private pilot with approximately 1,150 hr TT.

According to the operations manager of the FBO at the Dillant Hopkins Airport (EEN) in Keene, N.H., the aircraft had been parked there since August 30. Before departure the pilot was seen refueling the aircraft at a self-service fuel pump, but NTSB investigators found no problems with the fuel that might have contributed to the accident.

After fueling, the pilot was seen loading “about five or six duffel bags” into the nose section of the airplane and the occupants entered the passenger cabin. The airplane taxied to Runway 20, the pilot performed a run-up and the aircraft departed. Witnesses south of the airport saw the airplane about 200 to 300 ft above the ground with its engines “sputtering and backfiring.” The airplane made a left turn, reversed direction back toward the airport and descended out of sight. It was found in a wooded area about two miles southeast of the airport. There was an extensive post-crash fire.

According to the FAA, the pilot contacted the FSS before departure to obtain a weather briefing and file an IFR flight plan to Charleston, W. Va., and mentioned to the specialist that he would be “flying the airplane back to Louisiana with the landing gear in the extended position.” A family member told investigators the pilot had said he experienced a problem with the landing gear while flying from Louisiana to Keene on August 30. Maintenance was not performed on the aircraft at Keene because the shop was not open over the weekend. It has been determined that the landing gear was extended at the time of the crash.