RDU plane crash pilot still recovering in hospital; UNC Health 'optimistic' he'll make full recovery

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Friday, April 26, 2024
Investigators work to piece together what caused RDU plane crash
We now know from the preliminary FAA report, the plane tried to land when it bounced and then missed the runway.

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- A small medical airplane crashed at Raleigh-Durham International Airport on Wednesday, and according to a preliminary report from the Federal Aviation Administration, it was caused by a failed landing.

The report said the plane attempted to land, bounced, began a missed approach and crashed.

Investigators are expected to continue their work Thursday at the airport.

The crash caused a full ground stop at RDU around 10:30 a.m. Wednesday that was lifted at 11:30 a.m.

Two people were inside the plane at the time of the crash. One of them was trapped for a short time before first responders were able to free them. Both were taken to the hospital for treatment after being removed from the aircraft. No other details were released on their condition.

UNC Health confirmed the plane was a UNC Air Operations medical plane. The two people onboard were a UNC physician and the pilot. The physician has been identified as Dr. Paul Chelminski, who is an internal medicine physician with UNC Health. The pilot was identified as Art Johnson; he has been flying for UNC since 2013.

Chelminski was returning from Wilmington, where he gave a lecture to medical staff at Novant Health New Hanover Regional Medical Center. Dr. Chelmenski was taken to UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill; he was released hours later.

Johnson was taken to Duke University Hospital in Durham. He remains hospitalized in fair condition as of Thursday. UNC Health said it remains optimistic he will make a full recovery.

The small plane, a Socata TBM-850, is owned by Medical Air Inc. It is part of the UNC Air Operations fleet. UNC Air Operations has logged approximately 21 million passenger miles and more than 82,000 flight hours since 1978 with no major incidents on the ground or in the air.

There was no notification about an emergency on board prior to the crash, according to the RDU Airport Authority.

RDU Airport Authority said it had more than 70 delays but expected to work through those now that the airport was back at normal operations. During the ground stop, incoming flights were diverted to Greensboro, Charlotte, and Richmond.

ABC11 Meteorologist Steve Stewart said the three top reasons for airplane crashes are pilot error, mechanical error and weather conditions. He said there were no significant weather issues at the airport at the time of the crash.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is expected to go to RDU over the next couple of days and tow the plane to Delaware for further investigation.

WATCH: Chopper11 shows point of view shot of small plane crash path

Chopper11 shows point of view shot of RDU small plane crash path

Other crashes connected to RDU

Airplane crashes are incredibly rare events. The most recent crash at RDU happened in July 2022.

In that crash, a skydiving airplane with damaged landing gear was diverted to RDU and made a hard landing on one of the runways.

Before that plane landed, 23-year-old co-pilot Charles Hew Crooks fell out of the aircraft. His body landed in a Fuquay-Varina neighborhood.

Despite extensive investigating, the NTSB was never able to determine if Crooks' fall was accidental or intentional.

Nearly 1.5 years after an airplane pilot fell to his death in a Fuquay-Varina neighborhood, the full circumstances surrounding how and why he fell remain unclear.

In December 1994, American Eagle flight 3379 crashed into a wooden area about 4 miles from RDU.

Fifteen of the 20 people onboard that airplane died.

In February 1988, all 12 people on AV Air flight 3378 died when it crashed just minutes after taking off from RDU.

In October 2019, a Piper PA-32 crashed in a wooded area off Umstead Park while approaching the RDU runway. Both people on that plane died.

In July 2000, a twin-engine plane crashed about 2 miles from the airport. Bad weather was blamed for causing that crash. Three people were on the plane when it went down; two of them survived.