A cockpit voice recorder may be the key to determining why a small jet plane crashed in northwest Oklahoma City on Tuesday, killing five men, a federal official said.
Efforts to find the recorder were ongoing Wednesday.
Investigators will interview witnesses who said they saw the plane fly through a flock of birds shortly before crashing about 3:15 p.m. into a wooded area near NW 10 and Council Road, said Tim LeBaron, investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board.
The plane left Wiley Post Airport shortly before the accident. Its destination was Mankato, Minn.
LeBaron would not speculate on the cause of the crash.
The state Agriculture, Food and Forestry Department's wildlife division wants to get involved because of the possibility that birds were sucked into the engines and caused the crash, said Philip Robinson, a department wildlife biologist.
"We're pretty confident that's what it was. I know there's a lot of water fowl and gulls that like to frequent that area,” Robinson said.
Investigators from the safety board, the Federal Aviation Administration, Cessna and Pratt & Whitney began their investigation into the crash Wednesday, LeBaron said during a Wednesday news conference.
The downed plane was a Cessna 500 Citation I equipped with Pratt & Whitney engines.
Plane vs. bird
Thousands of birds collide with planes every year. Some collisions cause crashes, some don't, Robinson said.
Since 1990, aircraft have collided with birds 792 times in Oklahoma, according to incidents reported to the aviation administration's National Wildlife Strike Database. There were more than 91,000 collisions between birds and planes reported nationally during that time period. Those numbers include civilian aircraft and some military aircraft.
The military keeps its own data.The U.S. Air Force reported 5,019 collisions between birds and aircraft in 2006. Some of those collisions were at Tinker Air Force Base, but none were serious, Tinker officials said last year.
The Agriculture Department has helped put safeguards in place at Tinker Air Force Base and Will Rogers World Airport to prevent birds from getting in the way of planes there. Robinson said he hasn't done much work at Wiley Post Airport.
Scott Keith, manager of Wiley Post Airport, said workers typically use a cap or blank gun to scare fowl from the runways.
The airport is five miles north of Lake Overholser and the North Canadian River, far enough that habitat does not typically pose problems for planes with a southerly flight path, he said.
"There have been occasional bird strikes, but none that have caused anything like yesterday,” he said.
Robinson said he has asked authorities for permission to visit the crash site so he can search for bird remains. If he finds any remains, he can identify the type of bird by its DNA — even if all he finds is a feather.
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