Pilot in ORU plane crash had nearly 5 years experience
BY ZIVA BRANSTETTER World Enterprise Editor
Saturday, May 19, 2012
5/19/12 at 7:44 AM
The pilot of a Cessna who died in a crash last week - which also killed three other men associated with Oral Roberts University - had been licensed for nearly five years and obtained a commercial license two years ago, records show.
Luke Sheets earned his private pilot's license in 2007 and his commercial license in 2010, according to Federal Aviation Administration records.
Sheets, 23, was licensed to fly single- and multi-engine airplanes under instrument flight rules. Records show Sheets had a medical restriction against flying at night or using colored signal controls, restrictions generally used for pilots who are colorblind.
"My biggest accomplishment in life (so far) is to earn my Commercial Pilot's Certificate and fly for MaxAir over the summer of 2010," stated Sheets, of Ephraim, Wis., on his Facebook page earlier this year.
"It has been a joy and unexplainable freedom to be able to fly. I plan to continue flying and become a commercial pilot flying corporate jets for a living."
Sheets and three men died on their way to a Teen Mania youth rally in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Hannah Luce, 22, survived the crash in a field nine miles west of Chanute, Kan., about 4:30 p.m. May 11.
Killed in the crash were Garrett Coble, 29, of Tulsa and Stephen Luth, 22, of Muscatine, Iowa. Austin Anderson, 27, of Ringwood, died later at a Wichita, Kan., hospital.
A preliminary report issued this week by the National Transportation Safety Board contains few new details about the crash. The report does not state whether any mechanical or electrical components of the plane malfunctioned.
It indicates weather was likely not a factor in the crash of the eight-passenger twin-engine Cessna. The cloud ceiling was at 11,000 feet with 10 miles of visibility and wind at four knots.
Sheets, Luth and Anderson graduated from ORU a week before the crash. Coble was a Northeastern State University-Broken Arrow faculty member who taught at ORU during the 2010-11 school year.
Luce had graduated previously, according to the university.
Hannah Luce's father, Ron Luce, is a member of the ORU board of trustees and founder of Teen Mania Ministries.
Cindy Mallette, a spokeswoman for Teen Mania, said she could not comment on a story in a Wisconsin paper regarding a possible heater malfunction before the crash. She said Luce is waiting for the final NTSB report and does not have information on what caused the crash that injured his daughter.
Luce could not be reached for comment Friday.
The story in Wednesday's Door County (Wisconsin) Advocate newspaper states Hannah Luce reportedly told her father that before the crash, the cabin filled with smoke or fumes. The plane had grown cold after reaching its cruising altitude, and the smoke was likely from a malfunctioning heater that had been switched on, the story states.
Craig Sheets told the newspaper that his son may have turned off the plane's electrical power and started an emergency descent. The impact of a hard landing may have led to the fuel in the heater catching fire, Craig Sheets told the newspaper.
The NTSB report states Sheets was flying the 1968 Cessna 401-model plane under an instrument flight plan. However, it states that "visual meteorological conditions prevailed for the flight."
The flight departed Jones Riverside Airport in Tulsa at 3:45 p.m. for the Council Bluffs Municipal Airport, the report states.
"Initial reports indicate that the pilot received air traffic control services and had requested to descend from 10,000 feet mean sea level (msl) to 8,000 feet msl. There were no further radio communications between the pilot and air traffic control, nor were there any distress calls by the pilot," the NTSB report states.
It states the accident site was in a tree line between a grass field and a corn field.
"The wreckage path's initial impact point was a ground scar consistent with a ground contact by the right wing tip, followed by signatures of additional ground impacts, before the airplane collided with a large tree. A post crash fire ensued," the report states.
FAA records list the plane's owner as Bill Austin of Bill Austin Aircraft and Yacht Sales in Sparta, Tenn. Austin said Friday that he had recently sold the plane but declined to name the new owners.
According to an aircraft sales website, the plane was "always hangared, no corrosion, all AD's (airworthiness directives) complied with." It had been flown more than 4,800 hours, the website states.
The plane was purchased three weeks ago by an Oklahoma corporation, DRDJ Sales Inc., said Darren Cagle of Wagoner, one of two corporate officers. The other corporate officer is Jason Beard of Tulsa, Cagle confirmed. Documents of the sale have not yet been filed with the FAA.
Cagle said he could not comment further on the advice of his attorney. Beard could not be reached for comment Friday.
Photos of Sheets standing next to an airplane are posted on Beard's Facebook page.
Cagle states on his Facebook page that he had known Sheets for more than three years.
"I liked Luke immediately and soon we were hanging out together," states an entry on Cagle's Facebook on Monday. "It was not long he talked me into going flying (does that sound familiar to any of you?). Soon he had me talked into buying a plane of my own. I owned a plane but did not even know how to start the darn thing! But in no time he had me flying and loving it."
Original Print Headline: ORU crash pilot was experienced
Ziva Branstetter 918-581-8306
Luke Sheets: The 23-year-old earned his private pilot's license in 2007 and his commercial license in 2010. Records show he had restrictions generally used for colorblind pilots
Garrett Coble (left), Austin Anderson and Stephen Luth: All were killed on their way to a Teen Mania youth rally when their plane crashed nine miles west of Chanute, Kan. Luth and Anderson had graduated from ORU a week before the crash and Coble had taught at the university for the 2010-11 year