LINCOLN COUNTY, NC (FOX 46 WJZY) - The pilot in a double fatal plane crash early Tuesday morning in Iron Station should not have been flying, FOX 46 has uncovered.
The small plane crashed around 5:40 a.m. near the Lincoln County Airport by Jack Dellinger Road, and landed in a field.
Troopers said the pilot, Teddy Heavner, 63, and his passenger and friend Basil Todd Sain, 54, were taking off for Wisconsin to attend the Oshkosh air show when the crash occurred.
When Heavner took off from the Lincoln County Airport, there was heavy fog and low visibility. In those conditions only specially trained pilots are allowed to fly and Heavner was not qualified, FAA records show.
“Definitely shouldn't have been flying in these conditions,” said Aviation Mechanic Andrew Graham.
Heavner was not instrument rated, meaning he was not permitted to fly in bad weather, and never should have been in the air, according to an analysis of FAA records.
"This pilot.....had absolutely no chance of flying successfully in that weather," one commercial pilot and certified flight instructor told FOX 46.
"I'd like to offer our condolences , as an aviation community for the families," said Andrew Graham, a mechanic who works on planes, like the one flown by Heavner, at Victory Lane Aviation. “It's always tragic to hear."
Despite not being instrument rated, Heaver took off in the dark in bad weather. Graham says pilots are largely on the honor system.
"If a guy has an expired license and he owns an airplane he can jump in that airplane anytime. It really falls on the owner," said Graham. "There's not a great way to regulate who's in the sky."
The FAA is investigating whether Heavner's medical certificate was expired, which also would have prevented him from flying.
"The FAA investigation will determine whether the pilot's medical certificate was current," said spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen.
The 1977 single engine Piper is registered to Drake Enterprises of Lincolnton, a trucking company owned by Heavner, according to FAA records and the company's website. On Tuesday, a highway patrol vehicle was parked outside.
Eleven months ago, Heavner was forced to make an emergency landing in a field in Alexander County. At the time he described hearing loud banging noises "and then the engine quit," according to an FAA report. After the crash, he told the The Taylorsville Times that "there was not a scratch on him."
His daughter told the paper last August, after the crash, that her dad was alive "by the grace of God."
“My dad is the pilot of this plane and, by the grace of God, he was able to land it in this field without injury to himself or anyone else," Asheleigh Brusso told the newspaper. "He also avoided hitting a house, a barn, and cleared a power line. My dad walked away without a scratch on his body and did an amazing job of handling himself in a crisis.”
Graham says investigators will be paying close attention to the plane's engine.
“There was significant airframe damage last year when he did have an emergency landing," said Graham. "So, they're going to look into the maintenance that was performed at that time and the maintenance over the course of the last year leading up to this morning's crash."
The NTSB says a preliminary report should be ready in the next 7-10 days. A final report could take at least a year.