Witnesses heard 'loud' engine noise at takeoff

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating a plane crash in which four people died Wednesday morning at Dorchester County Airport. Friends and family of pilot Peter Radding say he was meticulous about his plane and that he took extra cautio

JEDBURG -- Witnesses to the plane crash that killed four people at the Dorchester County Airport last month said they heard distinctive engine sounds in the moments before takeoff.

The National Transportation Safety Board's preliminary report quoted one witness as saying the plane's engine noises changed pitch twice. Others said they felt the sound of the engines was "loud."

The report did not name a specific cause of the crash, which could take months to determine. It did say some witnesses remembered the runway lights were not illuminated before the plane's takeoff, and that the fire after the crash was severe.

"Several witnesses reported three or four post-accident explosions," the report stated.

The 1976 Piper PA-23 crashed on the morning of Oct. 21 just seconds after takeoff. Once in the air the plane quickly veered off course, landing in a wooded area adjacent to the runway.

Killed were the plane's pilot and owner, Peter Radding, and three passengers, James Randolph Hargenrader of Summerville, Edwin Steeble of Summerville and Dallas Carter of Laurel, Del.

The men were friends flying on the first leg of a trip to an amateur radio contest in the Bahamas.

The NTSB report, issued late last week, also showed e-mail messages made by the men indicating that they discussed avoiding possible weight problems in connection with some of the radio gear they would be carrying with them.

The discussion "included the decision to create a list of what items should be left behind if the original planned load exceeded the airplane limitations," the report said.

Additional paperwork found in the hangar documented the weight, "in pounds and ounces," of the planned cargo items, the report said.

Other findings showed no immediately recognizable problems with the aircraft's mechanics. The landing gear and flaps were in a retracted position and both propeller blades remained attached to their propeller hubs.