What in the world (or otherwise) hit Night Ship 282, a Cessna 208B Cargomaster flying over southern Alabama? In a report some observers say is unprecedented, the NTSB admits the aircraft collided with something. But no one who’s investigated the case seems to know just what.
Investigators remain baffled over the events that caused the crash of a Cessna cargo plane piloted by Thomas J. Preziose near Spanish Fort, Alabama, on the night of Oct. 23, 2002. The 54-year-old pilot died when his aircraft, code-named Night Ship 282, struck a mysterious unknown object and then crashed in the mud of Big Bateau Bay.
Just what it was that collided with the plane, and how the accident happened, may always remain a mystery. On the night of the crash, Preziose was carrying 420 pounds of cargo, including a shipment of baseball hats. Before leaving Mobile Downtown Airport, Preziose told controllers he planned to fly at 9,000 feet because “the radar’s out,” which was an indication that the plane’s weather radar was not operating. Preziose, a retired police officer and a life-long flier was working for Mid-Atlantic Freight, flying the Cessna Caravan on a nightly cargo run from Mobile to Montgomery, Alabama, and Atlanta, Georgia.
They said Preziose banked his plane north, and controllers instructed him to climb to 3,000 feet and turn right, toward the east. The controller also advised that an inbound DC10 aircraft was flying south at 4,000 feet. Preziose replied: “Roger, I got him above me right now.”
Even as he was saying this, however, records show that Preziose’s plane was starting a rapid, but apparently controlled descent. In the next 14 seconds, the plane dropped from 2,900 to 2,400 feet. Then Preziose radioed: “I needed to deviate, I needed to deviate, I needed to deviate, I needed . . . “
About five minutes into his flight, this exchange took place between Preziose and Mobile Approach:
- 19:42:21 Night Ship 282: “Mobile departure night ship ah two eighty two is with you at one thousand going to two thousand.”
- 19:42:25 ATC: “night ship two eighty two mobile departure radar contact maintain three thousand turn right join victor four fifty four please.”
- 19:42:30 Night Ship 282: “Roger right turn four fifty four.”
- 19:44:25 ATC: “Night ship two eighty-two traffic at twelve o’clock of you and seven miles southbound heavy DC ten at four thousand.”
- 19:44:29 Night Ship 282: “Night ship two is looking I’m IMC.”
- 19:44:32 ATC: “Roger.”
- 19:45:34 ATC: “Night ship two eighty two your still IMC but that DC Ten is one o’clock and two miles south bound at four thousand.”
- 19:45:41 Night Ship 282: “Roger I got him above me right now.”
- Then, just seconds later:
- 19:45:57 Night Ship 282: “I needed to deviate, I needed to deviate, I needed to deviate, I needed”
- End of Transmission
[Investigators] don’t know of any other accident that we have in our files that states ‘collision with an unknown object,’ NTSB Spokesman Keith Holloway
That was his last message. From there the place took a nose dive into the swamp. The remains of the Cessna were found scattered randomly over an area of about 200 yards.
The instruments were so smashed they offered no useful information. The autopsy showed no sign of alcohol or drugs. The investigators found the red marks early in the investigation. They were concentrated on the forward parts of the plane on the pilot’s side but also were found on the other side of the plane.
The marks also were found inside the nose landing gear wheel. Also, the plane’s engine was found broken into two main pieces. Don Godwin, CEO of Mid-Atlantic Freight, said the split engine was “a big deal right there to me.
I think most everybody is convinced that that happened prior to impact.” Godwin is suggesting that something not only hit the Cessna but passed right through it. But what? A missile? Another aircraft?
If so, why wasn’t the wreckage of the other flying object found in the muck with Preziose’s plane? “I believe whatever hit it flew right through it and probably ended up in the Gulf of Mexico someplace or somewhere in that bay,” said Godwin.
- Could the Cessna have been destroyed by wake turbulence caused by the passing DC-10? But that certainly wouldn’t explain those mysterious red marks, nor the force of an impact that the NTSB report says occurred in the air.
- Was it hit by a drug runner’s plane that went down, but its loss went unreported? “There is active drug smuggling in Alabama, yes, by air,” said Mobile’s resident DEA agent, Sam Houston. The smuggler would not have filed a flight plan nor be transmitting its position. The plane could have reached the Gulf of Mexico before going down, and no one would report that kind of loss. (This is my favorite theory)
- What about a meteor or space junk? A meteor would not leave red paint. Space Junk would have possibly burned badly after re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere and probably wouldn’t have left red paint marks.
- Could it have been a military drone running amok? Military officials at Tyndall Air Force base, about 140 miles away, say they had no drones or other odd craft in the sky on the night of the accident. They insist that they had nothing to do with the downing of Night Ship 282. Of course, they would probably say it hit a weather balloon (standard answer).
- Could it have been a terrorist missile aimed at the larger DC10 nearby? Seems unlikely.
The NTSB sent bits of the aircraft, samples of the red marks, and other material — including a piece of a military UAV such as those flown from Tyndall and Eglin — to Wright Patterson AFB (OH) for microscopic analysis. The examination found “the red streaks on the skin of the accident airplane was significantly different from the other materials that were examined for comparison:
the red cargo bag, the red pitot cover, the paint on the airplane, and the piece from the unmanned aerial vehicle. The spectra that were obtained at Wright Patterson Air Force base are effectively identical to those obtained by the laboratory hired by the insurance company, indicating that the red streaks on all the pieces of the airplane are the same material. Without a specific candidate material for comparison, it is not possible to identify the source of the red streaks.”
- The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is an independent U.S. government agency responsible for investigating transportation accidents and promoting transportation safety. The agency investigates accidents involving all modes of transportation, including aviation, railroads, highways, pipelines, and waterways, and issues safety recommendations to prevent future accidents. The NTSB was established in 1967 and is headquartered in Washington, D.C. More information about the NTSB can be found on their official website: www.ntsb.gov. [Back]
- Mid-Atlantic Freight was an American charter airline based in Greensboro, North Carolina, USA. It operates charter overnight freight feeder services. Its main base was Piedmont Triad International Airport, Greensboro. The airline was established on January 1, 1990, and started operations on February 1, 1990. It was set up as a sister company of Atlantic Aero with common management and has 8 employees (in March 2007). The Airline merged into Martinaire. [Back]
- The DC-10 is a wide-body, trijet airliner manufactured by McDonnell Douglas (now a part of Boeing) from 1970 to 1989. It was designed to carry a large number of passengers on medium- to long-range flights and was used by many airlines around the world. The DC-10 had a distinctive appearance with two engines mounted on the wings and a third engine mounted in the tail. While the DC-10 had a long and successful career, it was also involved in several high-profile accidents, including the crash of American Airlines Flight 191 in 1979. Despite these incidents, the DC-10’s safety record was generally good, and it paved the way for later McDonnell Douglas designs such as the MD-11. [Back]
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- National Transportation Safety Board. (n.d.). About NTSB. Retrieved from https://www.ntsb.gov/about/Pages/default.aspx