The National Transportation Safety Board has released its preliminary report on a deadly plane crash earlier this month in New Bedford, Massachusetts.
Paul Vidal, 74, of Westport, the pilot and sole occupant of the Cessna 150, was killed in the Nov. 4 crash at New Bedford's Rural Cemetery. The plane nosedived, according to cellphone videos captured by eyewitnesses, and the force of the impact left only a mangled wreck on the ground.
National Transportation Safety Board investigators said a review of Federal Aviation Administration data showed that the plane departed New Bedford Regional Airport and climbed to about 2,500 feet for about 20 minutes.
It then began a gradual descent, turned to the northeast, flew along the shoreline and turned north back toward the airport, descending to about 300 feet. It climbed right to about 4,000 before descending rapidly in a circular pattern.
A witness told investigators he heard a sound "like a motor revving up high." He looked up and saw an airplane "swoop down like it was going to land," before climbing very high, pivoting on its left wing and "coming straight down."
The witness said he thought the pilot was "doing tricks," but the president and an employee at the airport said the pilot was conservative and would never perform aerobatics. They said he seemed "cheerful and happy to be flying" that morning and never contacted air traffic control.
Examination of the fuselage showed the plane hit a tree in a "near vertical nose down attitude," investigators said. The debris field extended about 240 feet from the tree.
The NTSB's final report is expected to be issued in about 18 to 24 months.
FAA records show that Vidal was in good health and had a private pilot license since Feb. 2010. The only medical information listed shows he wore contact lenses.
"He was in good health," his wife, Carol Vidal, said on the day of the crash. "We ran a 5K yesterday, both of us. We were the oldest ones in the race, so, he was in good health."
People who live in the densely populated neighborhood in New Bedford's south end said the plane was being maneuvered as if it was in an air show.
"I look up and I see the plane it's circling and there's a lot of smoke," one witness reported.
Carol Vidal said something must have gone wrong because her husband, a longtime pilot, was always cautious in the air.
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"He was a good pilot," she said. "I don't know what happened."