A new report is detailing the final moments before a banner plane fell out of the sky and crashed on a Hollywood roadway, erupting in a ball of flames and killing the pilot inside.
The preliminary report from the National Transportation Safety Board released Friday sheds new light on the May 17 crash that killed 28-year-old Mitchell Knaus.
According to the report, Knaus had left North Perry Airport in Pembroke Pines around 12:25 p.m. to fly a banner for around an hour and a half along the beach in Fort Lauderdale.
An investigation was underway to determine how a banner plane crashed in Hollywood, killing the pilot.
Knaus, piloting a Piper PA-25-235, had begun climbing and was around 600 feet in the air when the tower controller asked him if he was ok, because the plane was not climbing.
“Banner Zero Alpha Bravo, everything okay? You’re descending rapidly,” the tower controller asked.
“I’m trying to uh…keep climbing,” Knaus replied, according to the report.
The ground operations director tried to contact Knaus by radio but didn’t receive a response, and noticed that the plane had a “a high nose-up pitch attitude that was ‘more than needed’ and, in his opinion, was preventing the airplane from climbing,” the report said.
The director later told investigators he did not hear any engine roughness during the flight, the report said.
The controller once again asked Knaus if he was ok, and Knaus replied “I’m good now zero alpha bravo…starting to climb.”
Audio from an air traffic control tower reveals the moments before a small banner plane crashed in Hollywood. NBC6’s Kim Wynne reports
But later, Knaus transmitted that everything was not ok.
“I might have to drop this banner. I’m not climbing,” Knaus said.
The controller asked if he wanted to return to the airport.
“I’m at 400 [feet]. I gotta drop this banner over a lake…I’m going to be over these oil tanks with a lake next to it.”
That was Knaus’ final communication, according to the report.
The report noted the plane reached a maximum altitude of 900 feet, but around 12:33 p.m. it entered a descent that continued until the plane crashed on North Park Road in Hollywood, next to a Target shopping plaza parking lot.
Friends of a pilot who was killed when the banner plane he was flying crashed on a Hollywood roadway are remembering the man as an avid flyer and a good person. Katherine Artiglio said she knew something was wrong when her normally dependable friend Mitchell Knaus wasn’t returning her text messages Wednesday.
The report said video showed the final seconds of the flight, with the plane in level flight at a low altitude, “near rooftop height.”
“At the moment the banner was released, the airplane rolled and yawed right, before the wings leveled and it descended vertically in a nose-up attitude briefly,” the report said. “The airplane then rolled left and entered a steep, nose-down, left spiraling descent out of the camera’s view.”
Witnesses described the moment the plane went down in 911 calls released after the crash.
“Hi, I’m on North Park Road, right in front of Target, and it looks like a small airplane just crashed in the road,” a woman tells a 911 operator. “It’s on fire, yes, it exploded.”
“I heard a loud boom and it immediately engulfed in flames. So I would say that whoever was in it did not likely get out,” she added.
Listen to the full 911 calls released from the moment a pilot was killed when a banner plane crashed on a South Florida roadway.
Knaus was killed at the scene. Despite the plane going down on a public street near a busy intersection and shopping center, no one on the ground was injured.
According to the NTSB report, Knaus had 324 total hours of flight experience, with about 15 of those hours on a plane like the one he crashed in.
Knaus had moved from California to South Florida just a month and a half ago, his roommate told NBC6.
The report said he had been hired by Aerial Banners Inc., the company that owns the planes, about five weeks before the crash.
The company’s chief pilot told the NTSB their new-hire training included 40 to 80 hours of classroom, ground and flight training. According to the report, Knaus had completed several written and practical examinations.
Federal Aviation Administration records showed the plane was made in 1966 and had been inspected as recently as April 4, the report said.
The report noted the plane’s cockpit and instrument panel were “consumed by fire,” but said the engine examination “revealed no pre-impact mechanical anomalies that would have prevented normal operation.”
A second Aerial Banners plane crashed at North Perry Airport on Thursday. The pilot of that plane survived but was hospitalized with serious injuries.
After the first crash, NBC6 reached out to Aerial Banners but the company is not commenting until the NTSB investigation is complete, which could take up to a year.
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