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Story last updated at 11:49 PM on Aug. 12, 2005


Before pilot crashed, he tried to land
'Killed on impact'

By Don Nelson

An ultralight aircraft that lifted off from the Jackson County Airport Thursday evening climbed to about 300 feet, made several sharp turns in an attempt to return to the runway and dove into the ground, killing the pilot.

Authorities identified the flyer as 50-year-old Edmond J. Porcheddu of Dacula.

"(Porcheddu) was killed on impact," said Jackson County Sheriff Stan Evans on Friday.

The Jackson County EMS, the Jefferson Fire and Rescue team, the Harrisburg Fire Department, the Jackson County Sheriff's Office and the Jackson County Coroner's Office responded to the accident, which happened between 7 and 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Evans said.

The Jackson County Coroner's Office sent Porcheddu's body to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation Crime Lab to find the cause of death, said sheriff's Maj. David Cochran.

The sheriff's department is continuing to investigate the cause of the plane crash, Cochran said, and he expects to have conclusions in "a couple of days."

Tony Castillo, a friend of Porcheddu's and a fellow ultralight pilot, was at the Jackson County Airport on Thursday night, talking to Porcheddu by radio when the plane crashed. Castillo said Porcheddu was trying to turn the plane to land when it stalled and fell about 150 feet straight to the ground.

Porcheddu was flying a Mitchell A-10 ultralight, a winged, single-engine plane he had purchased about two months earlier, said Castillo, who bought a simpler model ultralight from Porcheddu at about the same time. The Mitchell A-10, often labeled an ultralight motorized glider by ultralight enthusiasts, has a three-blade propeller on the rear of the plane and overhead hinged wings that fold up for storage or transport.

Ultralights are small, usually single-person aircraft not regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration and that do not require airworthiness certificates or pilot certification. They are used primarily for recreation or sport.

Castillo said Porcheddu had made several modifications to the aircraft, including rebuilding the engine, and was taking it up for a test flight Thursday. Castillo had joined his friend to observe the aircraft and report to Porcheddu via the radio on what he noticed.

After Porcheddu took off, the plane gained altitude very slowly but reached a point where the pilot had to commit to flight, Castillo said.

Porcheddu managed to fly the ultralight over the runway and was making a series of turns to try to land in the same direction he took off, according to Castillo. After losing some altitude, Porcheddu was trying to make a final turn when the plane stalled and plummeted to the ground, Castillo said.

"In the turn, he lost speed and the plane quit flying," Castillo stated. "He was going too slow and had banked to avoid some trees."

The fall was brutal.

"The impact on the ground was pretty hard," Castillo said. "He was killed on impact."

Though he believes the ultralight's engine continued running throughout the flight, Castillo said he thought the main reason for the crash was an underpowered engine. Any plane, including a glider, will fall if its wings lose lift, Castillo said, and Porcheddu's plane could not maintain its lift because of the engine's lack of power and the banking maneuvers.

The sheriff said ultralights with parasails and wings often fly over Jackson County, but he doesn't recall an ultralight accident.

"We see them around all the time, and this is the first time we ever had one to crash," Evans said.

Porcheddu and Castillo shared a hangar which they used for their ultralights at Jackson County Airport, and four other ultralight owners used adjacent hangars, he said. Castillo said the six pilots were friends and often flew at the same time.

Published in the Athens Banner-Herald on Saturday, August 13, 2005

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