Norfolk, Va. - Federal investigators say the small private plane that crashed into the Norfolk Botanical Garden killing all three aboard was low on fuel, rocked by turbulence and was less than a mile from the runway when it wandered to the right and smashed into trees.
The preliminary report from the National Transportation Safety Board was issued on Thursday and is unusually lengthy. It echoes what NewsChannel 3 reported after the March 3 crash -- that pilot Dr. Michael Buxton was having trouble with a critical cockpit instrument and was in being knocked around in winds gusting to 27 knots. He had aborted two attempts at landings and was trying a third.
The report shows Buxton first tried to land in thick fog at the plane’s base in Suffolk, but diverted to Norfolk International Airport where advanced guidance systems and air-traffic controllers could help him better guide the plane to the runway. He missed on the first try and had circled for a second.
Federal investigators wrote the plane was 0.7 miles from the end of Runway 23 at 200 feet and cleared for landing when radar showed the Mooney M20F started wandering 15 degrees to the right.
The plane struck treetops in the Botanical Garden before tumbling upside down to the ground. Investigators said the left fuel tank had ruptured, making it difficult to know how much gas was aboard at the time. Investigators said the right tank had a trace of fuel.
Buxton’s two longtime friends, Ted Reinhardt and Bill Shaver of New York, also died in the crash.
A final NTSB report that will determine exactly why the plane crashed could be a year away.