A pilot's "ostentatious display" in performing a high-speed fly-by at a New Jersey airport, followed by a steep climb, led to a crash that killed all five people aboard, including three Polish tourists, according to a federal report released Friday.
The February 2010 crash killed plane owner Jacek Mazurek, who lived in Kearny in northern New Jersey; 46-year-old Wojciech G. Nykaza, of Lodi, N.J.; 38-year-old Andrzej Zajaczkowski of Warsaw; his 14-year-old son, Patryk; and his 6-year-old nephew, Filip Zajaczkowski. The three Polish tourists were family friends of the 45-year-old Mazurek.
Nykaza and Mazurek both were certified pilots, according to the National Transportation Safety Board, but it isn't known which man was operating the controls at the time of the crash.
Several people who witnessed the crash described the plane flying low past the airport at high speed, then pitching upward before losing part of a wing and cartwheeling into the snow. According to NTSB files, GPS data from the plane showed it was going 160 knots, or more than 180 mph, about 140 feet in the air right before it crashed.
A placard found in the plane listed its top maneuvering speed at 155 mph, Friday's NTSB report said.
"The pilot's low pass and subsequent pitch up maneuver, consistent with an ostentatious display, was performed at an airspeed that exceeded this operating limitation," investigators wrote.
The report also cited numerous modifications made to the plane that could have weakened the wing structure. Witnesses reported seeing a six-foot piece of the plane's right wing fall off before the crash.
An airplane mechanic who was an acquaintance of Mazurek's told investigators that he had warned Mazurek about performing the high-speed maneuver in the Cessna 337. He told The Associated Press last year that Mazurek had played videos showing him performing the maneuver.
The NTSB report found that while none of the 22 modifications made to the plane created a safety concern by itself, the combination could have put extra stress on the wings. It noted the Federal Aviation Administration didn't offer guidance on evaluating the effects of multiple modifications.
In the wake of the accident, the FAA issued a safety order directing Cessna owners to inspect wings for damage and to put placards listing operational limits in their cockpits.