Final report on Aztec plane crash inconclusive

James Fenton

FARMINGTON — Three years after the plane crash that killed former Aztec Mayor Michael Arnold, a final report issued in June by the National Transportation Safety Board did not pinpoint why Arnold lost control of his aircraft.

The charred skeleton of a single-engine plane is seen at the scene of a plane crash that killed pilot Michael Arnold at the Aztec Airport on May 18, 2013.

"The pilot’s loss of airplane control during takeoff for reasons that could not be determined because post-accident fire damage precluded a complete examination of the airplane," according to the June 16 report.

Arnold, 62, died May 18, 2013, when he lost control of his single-engine plane and crashed shortly after takeoff from the Aztec Airport.

Just after the plane became airborne, it struck a berm on the right side of the runway, spun 180 degrees and was engulfed in flames, according to the report.

The report indicates there is a possibility that Arnold became distracted during takeoff.

"The circumstances of the accident are consistent with the pilot becoming distracted during takeoff, possibly by a fuel leak or onboard fire," the report states. "However, neither scenario could be verified. Therefore, the reason that the pilot did not maintain airplane control during takeoff could not be determined."

Arnold bought the plane about six months prior to the crash and had complained that on a previous flight about a week earlier, fuel had been pooling on the floor of the cockpit. NTSB and Federal Aviation Administration investigators were unable to determine a possible leak source.

Arnold's body was taken the day of the crash to Albuquerque for an autopsy. Results showed that Arnold had carbon monoxide in his blood and antihistamine in his urine. No other drugs were present. The cause of death was determined "to be inhalation of products of combustion and thermal injuries," according to the report.

Visibility was clear, and the wind was light, according to the report.

NTSB spokesman Peter Knudson said about 1,300 investigations are handled by about 50 investigators across the U.S. each year, and investigations into fatal accidents like Arnold's typically take one year to 18 months to complete.

In 1988, Arnold became the airport manager and lived at the small, twin-runway airport with his wife, Patricia Arnold.

His son, Mike Arnold Jr., said in a phone interview that despite the report's lack of certainty over the cause of the crash, he is glad it was completed.

"It’s a relief to hear it's concluded and to get closure," he said.

Mike Arnold Jr., a commercial pilot who lives in Farmington, said the length of time taken to complete the report didn't surprise him.

Arnold's son said he still hears from people who share fond memories of his dad.

"He was a jack-of-all-trades, and he’s been missed in the community," he said. "I’ve heard from people in the local and aviation communities a lot since the accident. I still get people who make the correlation with our names and tell me about what he meant to them. His passing was a big vacuum in the area, for sure."

James Fenton is the business editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4621.