Pilot had no contact with air traffic control before Franklin County crash that killed 3

The pilot of the single-engine plane that crashed in Franklin County earlier this month never made contact with air traffic control before it hit the ground about 1.5 miles south of Raleigh North Executive Airport, according to a preliminary report from the National Transportation Safety Board.

Brian Sjostedt’s Cessna C-182 reached an altitude of about 1,300 feet in clouds and rain before beginning a fast descent that ended in a creek that leads into Clifton Pond south of Louisburg. The plane had taken off about 7:20 p.m. on March 1 and crashed less than two minutes later.

Sjostedt, his girlfriend, Jessica Kenny, and her friend Allison Forsythe, were killed. They were on their way to Hilton Head, S.C.

The NTSB report does not speculate on what caused the crash; a spokesman for the independent federal agency said it could be a year or more before investigators reach a conclusion.

Instead, the report describes what investigators observed about the plane and heard from witnesses in the days immediately following the crash.

Several witnesses commented on the weather. One who noticed the plane take off said, “Low clouds, and a lot of rain. Made you wonder: who would want to fly in this?”

Another witness, described as a local fire chief, said he was outside his home when he heard the airplane and wondered who would be taking off “in this weather.” He said the engine sound was smooth and continuous, at high power, before accelerating further, “like [the airplane] was either trying to climb or in a dive,” according to the report.

Then he heard the crash.

The NTSB report says Sjostedt had been briefed on the weather an hour before he took off. He filed an instrument flight rules or IFR flight plan through commercial online sites and obtained his clearance by telephone before he took off, the report says.

Under instrument flight rules, a pilot must use instruments in the cockpit and navigate by electronic signals along the pre-approved route.

Sjostedt, a former Raleigh police officer, owned the plane and had reported 1,422 hours of flight experience when he filled out an insurance application form on Aug. 28, 2018, according to the NTSB.

The Cessna was built in 1998 and had its most recent annual inspection on Nov. 12, 2018, according to the NTSB. The plane was destroyed on impact and showed no evidence of a fire before or after the crash, the report says.

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Richard Stradling covers transportation for The News & Observer. Planes, trains and automobiles, plus ferries, bicycles, scooters and just plain walking. Also, #census2020. He’s been a reporter or editor for 32 years, including the last 20 at The N&O. 919-829-4739, rstradling@newsobserver.com.