NTSB: Bentonville Pilot Crashed Trying To Avoid Landing Plane

BENTONVILLE (KFSM) -- The National Transportation Safety Board held a media conference Thursday (Sept. 1) about a plane crash at Bentonvile Municipal Airport the day before.

The NTSB confirmed what eyewitnesses told 5NEWS Wednesday that the plane that crashed was taking off in a southbound direction while another plane was landing in the northbound direction.

Police identified the pilot of the Beechcraft A36 Bonanza that crashed as Rex Grimsley, 70.

John Brannen, a senior air safety investigator with the NTSB, said the two planes were flying head-on at each other and Grimsley veered east to avoid the other plane, but ended up striking a nearby hangar. Police said Grimsley was pronounced dead at the scene.

Brannen said it is possible the two planes would have collided had Grimsley not veered from the other plane's path.

The NTSB will be interviewing the people on the plane that landed and will be looking into whether there was a breakdown in communication between the two planes and whether the pilots stated their intentions. They will also interview people who were at the airport and witnessed the crash.

The Bentonville airport does not have an air traffic control tower, so pilots communicate with each other on the same radio frequency. Brannen said those frequencies are not usually recorded.

"So we won't have any way to listen to recordings of what kind of communications were happening at the time," he said.

Brannen said there could be recordings on other frequencies and the NTSB will be listening to those. Takeoffs and landings work very differently at a small airport compared to Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport, which is nearby.

"The pilots of both airplanes can choose which runway they want to use, things of that nature," Brannen explained. "It's really see and avoid and hear and avoid for other traffic when you're in an uncontrolled environment."

At the Bentonville airport, the pilots only had one runway.

"For airplanes taking off, before they commence their takeoff role, they're supposed to visually look to see if there are other airplanes and also monitor the common traffic advisory frequency for airplanes that may be landing or in the traffic pattern of the airport," Brannen said.

The NTSB will likely wrap up their examination of the wreckage Thursday and will release it to a salvage company. They will release a preliminary report in about a week and final report will not be completed until about six months to a year. The national FAA office will then review the findings and issue a probable cause.

To listen to the full media conference, click here.