Investigators examine the wreckage after a small plane crashed near...

Investigators examine the wreckage after a small plane crashed near the west shore of Three Mile Harbor in East Hampton on Oct. 6. Credit: Thomas J. Lambui

Several aspects about the Oct. 6 private plane crash that killed a local pilot when a wing fell off soon after taking flight in East Hampton may suggest possible causes, including a missing nut, aviation crash experts said.

That nut should have helped secure the bolt attaching the right wing — the one that came off — to the right strut, which supports the wing.

In a recent preliminary report, the National Transportation Safety Board revealed the nut was gone — though the bolt’s threads were intact.

The undamaged threads, the experts said, show the nut was not ripped off in flight.

Noting the NTSB has yet to issue its “probable cause” finding, Michael F. Canders, aviation center director at Farmingdale State College, said: “When one piece of hardware like that is missing, it can over time, maybe create a vibration or some other stress on the wing that could have a disastrous result.”

J. Michael Davis, an associate professor of aeronautical engineering technology at Purdue University, added: “Who knows if it was ever torqued properly; it could have just fallen off.”

Though the impact of the crash “separated” the left wing strut from the wing, its bolt “remained secure with the nut,” the report said.

“The nut missing from the strut attachment point is a significant finding and although all explanations are still being considered, this will be a significant focus for the National Transportation Safety Board,” said Shawn Pruchnicki, a professor at Ohio State University's College of Engineering, Aviation and Integrated Systems Engineering.

The NTSB Materials Laboratory is examining both right and left wing “strut assemblies,” the report said.

The right wing, according to the NTSB, landed in a tree 770 feet away from the rest of the Seamax M-22 amphibious aircraft, which came down in shallow water in Three Mile Harbor, north of the town.

Other unusual features about this crash the experts highlighted include how new this fixed-wing two-seater was — its first Federal Aviation Administration certificate was only issued on April 15 — and how exceptionally rare it is for planes to lose wings, a problem much more likely to occur in severe storms or if a pilot attempts a stunt the plane cannot withstand.

Also, the experts pointed to the preflight check as another unusual circumstance.

The pilot, Kent Feuerring, 57, of Sagaponack, who was the president of the East Hampton Aviation Association, was the sole occupant of the plane the day it crashed. He arrived at the town airport at 11:59 a.m., and “pulled the plane out of the hangar at 12:06 p.m.,” the NTSB said, citing surveillance video.

“Between 12:06 p.m. and 12:08 p.m. the pilot performed a preflight inspection, entered the airplane, shut the canopy, and started the engine at 12:09 p.m.”

Said Purdue’s Davis: “Two minutes — that’s not much of a preflight check.”

Even with new planes, Davis, who is a pilot himself, said he has found elevators, which control a plane’s pitch, lacked critical hardware.

“It is possible to miss things in preflight; you’ve got to go back to the importance of the pilot in command doing a preflight,” said Canders.

The Seamax took off at 12:19 p.m., said the NTSB, which will not issue what should be its final report for two years or longer.

A witness, hearing the plane overhead, then “heard a loud ‘crack,’ saw a wing separate from the airplane, and the airplane spiral down into the water,” the NTSB said.

As Canders said, “Wing departures are obviously most of the time going to be catastrophic unless the pilot is very lucky and maybe close enough to the ground to recover.”

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