SANFORD — The private-plane crash that killed an Apex man this week probably was not caused by mechanical failure, according to early findings by an investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board.
Software consultant Kirk Aragon, 43, died Sunday after the 1996 Velocity RG airplane he was flying crashed into a wooded area near Raleigh Executive Jetport in Lee County.
Brian Rayner, a senior safety investigator at the NTSB, declined to say whether a pilot error caused the crash. He said it would be up to the five-member federal safety board to make the determination once the report is complete. "I don't have any evidence of a mechanical malfunction at this time," he said. It could take up to a year for the NTSB to issue its final report on the cause of the incident.
But investigators are already piecing together a narrative of what happened after the crash - including details about a dramatic effort by the pilot to escape the flaming wreckage.
Rayner was on site Tuesday still examining remaining parts of the plane found on Breezewood Road.
Aragon's plane went down about 12:45 p.m. Sunday, minutes after radioing to air traffic control that he was departing. A pilot who was in the air at the time told investigators that Aragon's plane appeared to be lower than usual and losing altitude before crashing.
"The entire airplane was consumed by fire," Rayner said. "The engine was significantly damaged; the gears are melted together; the instruments have been destroyed."
Aragon did not file a flight plan, so his destination is unknown, Rayner said. But it's likely that Aragon was taking a short flight around the area. Officials have not yet been able to recover the pilot log book, which would indicate whether Aragon was training for another license or certification. The log book may have been on the plane.
Rescued from fire
Aragon was alive immediately after the crash and managed to separate himself about 10 feet from the plane, said Deep River Fire Chief Larry Kelly. A trio of area residents managed to reach Aragon before the fire department arrived and helped to remove some of his clothing.
"They helped to keep him calm until we could get there," Kelly said. "He was conscious. I was able to talk with him to find out if anyone else was in the plane. He was in a lot of pain. He did not give any indication of what happened."
Aragon suffered what appeared to be second- and third-degree burns, Kelly said.
He was taken to UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill, where he later died from his injuries.
A family man
Aragon was an avid pilot and family man, said former co-worker Warren Myers.
Myers met Aragon in 2007 when both worked for Opsware, a software company that was later bought by Hewlett-Packard.
"Flying was a hobby for him, but that doesn't encompass it," Myers said.
Aragon had a wife and two young daughters, Myers said.
"He talked about them more than anything else," he said. "I think the biggest thing to know about him is I never once heard him say anything unkind either to another co-worker or client. He was the consummate professional and family man."
Funeral arrangements were being handled by Brown-Wynne Funeral Home in Cary.
News researcher Peggy Neal contributed to this report.