Feds release details about deadly skydiving crash on Oahu

  • In this 2019 file photo, NTSB investigator Elliott Simpson, right, briefs NTSB Board Member Jennifer Homendy at the scene of a skydiving plane crash at Dillingham Airfield in Waialua, Oahu. (National Transportation Safety Board via AP, File)

HONOLULU — The pilot of a plane that crashed and killed all 11 on board had a history of taking unnecessary risks and pushing the limits of his skills to give passengers an exciting ride, witnesses told federal officials.

A public docket released Wednesday contains reports from a National Transportation Safety Board investigation into the 2019 plane crash that became one of the deadliest civil aviation accidents in the past decade.

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The reports included testimony from witnesses and other pilots, including Anthony “Tony” Skinner, a former pilot at the same parachute company, who said the accident pilot, Jerome Renck, sometimes flew aggressively.

The NTSB reports did not provide a specific cause for the crash. They did note that two skydivers boarded the flight at the last minute. There were also reports that outlined repairs made to the plane after a previous accident in 2016.

Skinner said “Renck would bank hard and pitch up aggressively on departures, and he had seen him do that as a ‘thrill ride’ for the passengers,” the report said. “The pilot would also do negative-G dives for the ‘weightless’ effect for fun, but he heard some jumpers would complain.

The former pilot said Renck, a French national who was the company’s only pilot at the time of the crash, “told him he had done barrel rolls in the accident airplane, but not with passengers,” according to the report.

A tandem skydiving instructor for the skydiving operation, Brian Wagner, said he liked Renck’s piloting.

“He said he liked flying with Jerome since he seemed to fly consistent and predictable each flight, which he liked in a pilot,” the report said. “He always expected a ‘pretty hard pull out,’ and all the flights were the same predictable flight path.”

Accounts from skydivers on that day’s previous flights were also included in the report.

“Takeoff was a little spicy for my liking but for the most part in control,” said skydiver Stephen Hatzistefanidis. “He definitely banked it a little hard on a high rate turn at a seemingly low altitude.”

A witness, Sayar Kuchenski, had taken part in skydives on the plane and flew on it the day before the crash.

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In an email to the NTSB, Kuchenski said on previous flights “the pilot would sometimes take off at an extremely steep angle and aggressive climb right after leaving the runway. This was presumably done for fun to intentionally create a high-gravity environment momentary.”

Kuchenski asked the pilot not to fly in that manner because it could cause a stall, “which would be unrecoverable that close to the ground. He respected my opinion and no longer flew the aircraft in that manner while I was on it after I had that discussion with him.”

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