The weekend crash of a small plane carrying 14 people, when it was designed for only 10, is raising questions about whether its pilot took undue risks.
But aviation analysts are wary of such conjecture and worry it re-enforces the notion that private pilots in general have a daredevil streak. They say the opposite is true – most pilots are extraordinarily risk-averse.
The importance of safety is hammered home starting in pilots' first flight lessons. That's why many aviation analysts hesitate to speculate on the cause of the weekend crash until the National Transportation Safety Board finishes its investigation.
Investigators are now combing a Montana graveyard for clues. The plane had left Oroville, Calif., on Saturday and was scheduled to arrive in Bozeman, Mont., on Sunday, but it diverted to Butte, 85 miles away.
It crashed there, just 500 feet from the runway. Seven children are among the 14 killed and were believed to have been on a ski trip.
The plane, a Pilatus PC-12, is usually configured to carry 10 people and about 3,000 pounds. Weight distribution is critical to the safe operation of the plane. The Federal Aviation Administration also requires that every passenger over the age of 2 has their own seat.
It's not known yet if the plane was reconfigured to accommodate the extra passengers.
Chris Dancy, a spokesman for the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, which represents the general aviation community, won't comment on the Montana crash. But he said weight problems are usually evident at takeoff.
"For an accident to take place at the end of a flight, in general, would seem to be indicative that the plane was not over gross and the weight and center of gravity were within tolerances," he says.