Cover Story: Skipper Beck crash - the airplane

By Jeff Atkinson - bio - l email

ROCK HILL, SC (WBTV) - It's considered one of the safest general aviation planes in the world.  The only aircraft with a parachute. We're digging into the safety features on the plane that Skipper Beck was flying when it went down in Rock Hill Friday.  And what aviation experts say likely led to the deadly crash.

Skipper Beck was a well known businessman in our area.

At one time he owned one of the most successful Mercedes-Benz dealerships in the southeast.

He was part owner of the Bobcats.  And was a regarded as a great philanthropist.  But Beck as a pilot?

We're told he had less than a year of flying experience under his belt when he crashed in Rock Hill Friday.

It happened shortly after take-off.  Officials say he was on his way to Teterboro Airport in New Jersey.

Aviation experts we talked to say, the plane Beck was flying, however safe, was a lot to handle.

Pilots say altitude is your friend when you lose an engine.. and if indeed that's what happened to Skipper Beck's plane.. some kind of mechanical problem.. he didn't have enough altitude to make the difference.

However, had he been able to climb higher.. there was something on board that could very well have saved his life.

Witnesses reported hearing a plane that sounded like it was having mechanical problems shortly after taking off.

Skipper Beck.. 49 years old.. who'd had his pilot's license less than a year.. crashed his plane into pieces at the end of Rock Hill Airport's Runway 20.

"I told her there is no airplane. There's nothing there."

Beck found his love of flying.. on his Beck Aviation website he proudly proclaimed flying a 2008 Cirrus SR22 G3 Turbo.

A more than half-million dollars single-engine aircraft.. popular with the well-heeled.

The actual plane here.. high-powered.. a lot of plane to handle for an inexperienced pilot.

"Every pilot reads this and has a sinking feeling in their stomachs."

Cigar Dave, nationally syndicated radio talk show host owns a Cirrus SR22.. and has flown one for almost four years.

He says from the sounds of it.. Beck experienced some kind of mechanical failure on takeoff.. at low altitude tried to return to the Rock Hill airport.. which was a mistake.

"Anytime you try to return to the airport at low altitude that is really a recipe for a stall spin accident. That is something that every pilot even experienced pilots have to fight to overcome."

Keeping the plane in a forward motion pilots learn is the method to avoiding a stall.

On board every Cirrus Aircraft is a built-in parachute.. exclusive to Cirrus.

Watch in this demonstration video how it deploys.. enabling the plane to come down in a safe landing.

The aircraft manufacturer credits it with saving 35-plus lives.

But the plane has to be above 500 feet for the chute to work.

The Cirrus is the same plane New York Yankees pitcher Cory Lidle and his flight instructor were flying when they crashed into a Manhattan high rise alongside the Hudson River three years ago.

"It's a very good airplane, but it's a lot of equipment to handle. You have to stay ahead of the airplane. It's technologically advanced."

FAA records show no indication of any service problems with Skipper Beck's plane.

And you can rule out weather.. skies were clear over Rock Hill this morning at the time of the crash.. just after seven o'clock.

Though the plane is a four-seater.. Beck, the pilot.. was the only one on board.

There are only about 4,000 of these type planes in the skies.

When will they find out what caused the crash?

Investigations not nearly as long and intense as commerical aviation crashes.. this one should be completed in about six months.