Coast Guard (copy)

A Coast Guard rescue helicopter takes off from the deck of the North Charleston based-Cutter Hamilton during a search for a Piper PA-31T off the S.C. coast in October. Coast Guard/Provided

Several weeks after a private airplane with five people on board took off from Andrews and went missing over the Atlantic Ocean, not much is known about the chain of events that led up to the presumed crash.

A preliminary report released earlier this month by the National Transportation Safety Board, however, contains several details about the aircraft's last known moments and sheds some light into what happened on Oct. 25 more than 24,000 feet above the Atlantic.

First came the transmission.

It was garbled but air traffic controllers were able to make out that the pilot was diverting to Charleston. The plane was 95 miles off the coast and on its way to Governor's Harbor Airport in the Bahamas. 

The plane began to descend but maintained its course. About 38 seconds later, the airplane turned sharply to the left and its rate of descent had increased to more than 4,000 feet per minute.

Almost a minute later, the pilot sent a final transmission. 

"Emergency emergency, five five five papa mike," the plane's tail number.

By the time the controllers lost radar contact, the Piper was about 100 nautical miles east southeast of Charleston.

The Coast Guard conducted a search and one airplane reported seeing an oil slick near the Piper's last known coordinates, but no wreckage, survivors or remains were found. 

The search was called off on Oct. 27 at sunset with the pilot and four others on board presumed dead.

By all accounts, the flight started off routinely, according to the report. The airplane climbed steadily and visibility was 10 miles. Weather conditions were reported as good with moderate turbulence but no known storm conditions.

Investigators reviewed the airplane's maintenance logbooks and found it had been inspected on Sept. 5. Starter generators on both engines were replaced at that time along with the cabin oxygen bottle. 

The inspection report also found the airplane was in compliance with several airworthiness rules specific to several Piper models, including one rule meant to prevent arcing in the electrical system and reduce the risk of fire. 

The pilot's records showed he was certified and had 2,778 hours of flight experience. 

Authorities have not publicly identified the five people on board; however, loved ones have said two of the passengers were Jamie Mitchum Jr., 58, of Bonneau, and Joseph Wayne Allbritton Jr., 34, of Charleston.

Mitchum and others aboard were licensed pilots, according to Federal Aviation Administration records but authorities have not said who was flying the aircraft.

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Reach Gregory Yee at 843-937-5908. Follow him on Twitter @GregoryYYee.

Gregory Yee covers breaking news and public safety. He's a native Angeleno and previously covered crime and courts for the Press-Telegram in Long Beach, CA. He studied journalism and Spanish literature at the University of California, Irvine.

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