Norfolk, Va. - All of the equipment used to guide airplanes into the airport during bad weather was working properly at the time of a small-plane crash Wednesday morning, according to Norfolk International Airport officials.
NewsChannel 3 reported yesterday that notices to airmen, or NOTAMS, issued Wednesday morning show the glide-slope lights, the approach lights, and the radio signals used to guide airplanes to the runway were out of service. Pilots were alerted through the Internet, as well as through recorded information broadcast by the airport. Airport officials confirmed Thursday morning that equipment was taken off line at the request of the FAA after the crash to ensure it was all working correctly. Wayne Shank and Steve Sterling, two of the Norfolk airport's top officials, said the equipment was determined to be working as designed. All of the equipment for Runway 23 was then returned to service.
However, audio recordings reviewed by NewsChannel 3 show the pilot, Dr. Michael Buxton, was struggling with his instruments. He told a controller his gyroscope was not working. That's the instrument pilots use to hold a steady course. He told controllers it was spinning side to side.
The controller several times alerted Buxton he wasn't lined up with the runway.
"I am showing you way left of course," the controller said, according to audio recorded and posted from LiveATC.net.
The recordings also show Buxton at first thought he had 90 minutes' of fuel aboard, but then realized the plane had only 30 minutes worth. He told the controllers the turbulence was like "a washing machine" and "things were floating around the cabin." His voice remained clear and calm for the entire recording.
Buxton was far enough off course that he abandoned his first landing attempt and tried another. He asked the controller to guide him with left-turn, right-turn directions.
A pilot who landed just ahead of Buxton reported he couldn't see the runway lights until he was about 300 feet above the ground. When Buxton was on final approach, the controller told him the cloud cover was 200 feet above the runway.
Eventually, the controller had the airplane lined up and cleared to land. But then, the controller called the pilot: "I am showing you northwest of the field now."
The controller tried several more times to contact the plane, and then alerted rescuers.
"He had the airport in sight," the controller said. "He was about a mile and a half final, maybe a mile. He was cleared to land and he rapidly turned to the northwest. And I haven't had radio communications with him or talked to him since them."
Hours later, airport crews found the wreckage in the Norfolk Botanical Garden, perhaps 300 yards from the end of Runway 23. Buxton and two of his friends from New York died in the crash. The NTSB said an early report could be released within two weeks, but a final report that determines the cause of the crash might take a year to publish.
UPDATE: Local doctor, two others dead in plane crash at Norfolk Botanical Garden