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Autopilot glitch cited in NWA plane crash

by Tom Sissom | June 6, 2023 at 1:00 a.m.
John Morgan

FAYETTEVILLE -- The Beech E-90 airplane involved in a fatal crash in rural Washington County on May 17 was having problems with its autopilot system and lost altitude rapidly just before the crash, according to a federal government report.

The National Transportation Safety Board released a preliminary report on the crash Monday detailing the final few minutes of the flight that killed John Morgan, the pilot and a former Mississippi state senator.

Morgan, 76, of Oxford, Miss., was the only person aboard the Beechcraft King Air when it lost altitude and crashed on private property between Carpenter and Ferry roads near Winslow. The plane crashed around 12:37 p.m. in steep, rugged terrain, according to information from the safety board and the Washington County sheriff's office.

The flight began at the University-Oxford Airport in Oxford, Miss., around 11:27 a.m. May 17, and Morgan was heading to Drake Field in Fayetteville, according to the report. Morgan had contacted an avionics repair facility at Drake Field about problems he was having with the autopilot system. He was told he needed to bring the aircraft in for service and not use the autopilot system during the flight.

The report says Morgan was flying on a direct course from Oxford to Drake Field and reached an altitude of about 16,000 feet during the flight before descending to 8,000 feet.

The aircraft descended and turned to reach its final approach course to Drake Field. The aircraft began to lose altitude rapidly, with the last two data points showing a rate of descent "in excess of" 15,000 feet per minute, according to the report.

The aircraft crashed into wooded terrain, descending through an opening in the tree canopy.

"Based on the damage to the surrounding trees, the impact signatures and the airplane damage, the descent was near vertical," the report states. "Both engines and propellers were embedded in the terrain and the entire airplane was fragmented."

There was no fire and no explosion as a result of the crash, according to the report. The wreckage was recovered and retained for investigation. The safety board website indicates that completing an accident investigation can take 12 to 24 months.

Morgan was identified by several Mississippi news outlets as having served as a state senator in the 1980s and 1990s. He also served as a Lafayette County, Miss., supervisor for many years, the equivalent of a county quorum court position in Arkansas. Morgan founded the Morgan White Group, an insurance company in Ridgeland, Miss., in 1987.

  photo  John Morgan

Print Headline: Autopilot glitch cited in NWA plane crash


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