HOUSTON (AP) — The pilot of a plane that crashed near a Houston airport halted a third attempt to land just before it plummeted to the ground, killing all three inside, the National Transportation Safety Board said Friday.
It's unclear whether the pilot made a distress call just before the crash that happened shortly after 1 p.m. Thursday near Hobby Airport, NTSB investigator Tom Latson said, and that initial information indicates the female pilot didn't make any other calls to air traffic controllers after she waved off the third landing attempt. He described the crash as a "violent impact."
"During this (third) approach, the pilot decided they would make a go-around themselves without direction and announced they were going around and began climbing out to the north," he said, adding that pilots are allowed to wave off an approach if they are not comfortable with it.
Audio posted on the website liveatc.net showed that the female pilot was told at least twice to turn around and make another attempt to land. She was also told that she was she's flying too high and has to turn around to land at Hobby Airport.
About 12 minutes before the crash, the pilot is told to turn back around to make another landing attempt by an air traffic controller. "I'm so sorry for the confusion," the pilot responds.
After a second unsuccessful attempt to land about five minutes later, the pilot is told her plane is too high and she'll have to try a third landing attempt.
"We'll come back around and we got it this time," an air traffic controller said.
A few minutes later, the pilot can be heard nervously laughing as she said, "Trying to get down again." An air traffic controller says "no problem."
Just before the crash, a traffic controller says: "Ma'am, ma'am, straighten up, straighten up."
Alex Rios, 17, was inside the muffler shop that his father owns across the street when he heard a very loud sputtering noise fly over before the crash.
"We saw people inside (the plane). There was no movement," he said.
Records in the Federal Aviation Administration registry show the plane was registered to Safe Aviation LLC in Moore, Oklahoma, and had been manufactured in 2012. Officials with Safe Aviation could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday, and a phone listing for the company could not be found.
Authorities have not released the names of the three victims, but Moore, Oklahoma, Police Sgt. Jeremy Lewis told KOCO-TV that Dana Gray was the pilot, and the passengers were her husband, Tony Gray, and his brother Jerry Gray. Lewis also told KFOR-TV that Dana Gray was a "very, very safe pilot."
FAA records showed a Dana Gray from Moore, Oklahoma, was issued a pilot's license on May 2, 2014.
The NTSB is still trying to determine how much flying experience the pilot had, Latson said, but that she had been flying the plane since the Oklahoma company that owns it bought it in 2012.
The plane took off from Norman, Oklahoma, and had just been refueled, meaning it had about five hours' worth of fuel, Latson said, though he noted that it isn't clear whether the plane could have run out of fuel because both tanks ruptured in the crash.
The flight-tracking website FlightAware showed that in the last 15 minutes, the plane's altitude greatly fluctuated, going from 1,800 feet down to 200 feet and back up to 1,200 feet before crashing.
NTSB's final report on the crash will take six months to a year, Latson said.
Follow Juan A. Lozano on Twitter at www.twitter.com/juanlozano70