PORTLAND – The Brunswick man who was flying the airplane that crashed Saturday near the Portland International Jetport took all the steps necessary to prepare for an emergency landing, federal officials have determined.

Investigators inspected the frame of Mark Haskell’s Aerostar Yak-52 on Tuesday, said Butch Wilson, an air safety investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board.

They determined that Haskell activated the plane’s emergency fuel shutoff and electrical circuit breakers moments before the crash killed him and 66-year-old Thomas Casagrande of Portland.

All of the plane’s flight controls were fully operational, Wilson said.

Meeting with reporters for the second consecutive day at the jetport, Wilson said the fact that Haskell took those steps means he was most likely preparing for an emergency landing.

Haskell greatly reduced the potential for a large fire on the ground by shutting down the fuel and electrical systems, Wilson said.

“It’s standard emergency procedure to shut the fuel off to get ready for a crash landing. But we still don’t know happened to the plane,” Wilson said.

Haskell, 42, and Casagrande were killed Saturday afternoon when the Russian-built aircraft plunged into the ground near the intersection of Maine Mall Road and Western Avenue in South Portland.

Haskell had asked Casagrande, a certified flight instructor, to accompany him for his flight review — a proficiency test that the federal government requires pilots to take every two years.

According to an air traffic controller who was monitoring the takeoff, the plane gained altitude but began to “wobble” shortly after takeoff. “That (wobbling) is highly unusual,” Wilson said.

The controller radioed Haskell and asked him if he needed to return to the jetport. Haskell indicated that he did, Wilson said.

The plane then banked sharply to the left before plunging nose first into the ground.

Less than a minute passed from the time the tower contacted Haskell and the crash, Wilson said.

Wilson said both men in the plane were wearing parachutes, but they didn’t use them because they had not gained enough altitude to make them effective.

The plane climbed to about 300 feet before it plunged. For the parachutes to work, the plane would have to have been several thousand feet off the ground.

Wilson said the plane couldn’t have glided to safety either, because it wasn’t flying fast enough. In order to glide, he said, it would have to have been going at least 93 knots — about 107 mph.

Wilson said the investigation’s focus will turn to the airplane’s engine, which was “pretty banged up.”

“We will be looking for anything that may have caused the engine to malfunction,” he said.

The plane, which was built in the mid-1980s, was inspected in June, Wilson said.

About 300 Yak-52 airplanes are now in use in the United States. About 2,000 were built by the Russian government.

Haskell acquired his plane from the Romanian Air Force in 2001 and named it Lizzy-Lou after his daughter, Elizabeth Louise.

Haskell was married and had three children. In addition to being an experienced pilot, he was an air traffic controller at the jetport for 20 years. He flew the Lizzy-Lou in airshows at the Brunswick Naval Air Station and in Portland.

His funeral will be held at 10 a.m. Friday at the Church of the Nazarene in Brunswick.

Casagrande was married and had five children. He served two tours of duty in Vietnam, flying UH-1 Huey helicopters and reconnaissance missions.

After retiring from the Army, Casagrande served 20 years in the Department of Defense as a civil service test pilot. He logged more than 13,000 hours of flight time and was trained to fly more than 190 types of aircraft.

His memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Thursday at Brooklawn Memorial Park in Portland.

Gov. John Baldacci issued an order Tuesday that the U.S. and Maine flags be flown at half-staff in Portland from sunrise to sunset on Thursday in remembrance of Casagrande’s service to his country.

Wilson said the cause of the crash probably won’t be known for another six months to a year. He expects to publish a preliminary report on the crash by the end of this week.

His report will appear on the NTSB website: www.ntsb.gov.

 

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at: [email protected]