2017-07-13 / Community

Report on Sherwood pilot crash released

Reason for midair breakup still unclear
By Becca Whitnall

Something caused Lake Sherwood pilot Michael Brannigan’s single-engine Cessna to break up in the skies above Ventura last month, but what that something was remains unclear.

A preliminary report issued last month by the National Transportation Safety Board says Brannigan’s plane left a 1.5-mile-long path of debris before crashing down just before noon June 1 about seven miles northeast of the beach community, killing the 52-year-old father of two instantly.

Although investigators were able to identify most of the plane’s major components, they have yet to publish a reason for the midair breakup. It could be up to a year before they do, an NTSB spokesperson said.

In his report, NTSB lead investigator Albert Nixon said several witnesses who were walking near the accident site heard a loud sound just before the crash.

“One witness stated that prior to the loud noise, the airplane’s engine sounded like it was powering up,” he wrote.

Another witness said he looked up after hearing the loud noise and saw the Cessna, whose engine and wings had separated from the body, spinning toward the ground, Nixon said.

The plane’s fuselage was recovered near the top of a hill, the engine and propeller about 500 feet away.

Additional components located along the debris path include fragments of both wings, elevator counterweights and the cabin doors. Only the right elevator, which helps control the plane’s pitch, was not recovered.

Brannigan, a professional photographer and licensed pilot, took off from Santa Paula Airport around 11:10 a.m. with the intention of returning and landing there sometime later, the report says.

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