Pilot of ill-fated flight disoriented before departure

RIVERSIDE – The 83-year-old pilot of the twin-engine airplane that crashed into two homes after departing Riverside Municipal Airport, ultimately resulting in four fatalities, appeared to be disoriented and having difficulty communicating before takeoff, according to a report released today by the National Transportation Safety Board.

The agency released preliminary findings on the Feb. 27 crash, indicating that pilot Nouri Hijazi required verbal guidance from air traffic controllers to get his Cessna 310Q to the appropriate runway, and then had trouble understanding his instrument departure directions.

“A review of ATC audio revealed that the controller issued an IFR clearance to the pilot multiple times before he repeated the instructions back to the controller correctly,” according to the preliminary NTSB report.

“Witnesses who were listening to the pilot’s communications with ATC reported that the pilot required progressive taxi instructions to Runway 9, the departure runway.”

The NTSB confirmed earlier reports that Hijazi had trouble starting the 42-year-old plane’s left engine, but there was no specific mention of engine failure as a possible contributing factor in the fiery crash.

According to federal investigators, the plane was bound for San Jose International Airport and got airborne uneventfully about 4:40 p.m. Witnesses observed the Cessna initiate a left turn as it climbed eastbound into a cloud bank. It was drizzling, but winds were calm and visibility was about 2 miles at the time.

“A portion of the airplane’s final moments of flight were captured by a surveillance video, which showed the airplane descend toward the ground in a slight left wing low attitude,” according to the report.

The Cessna clipped a chimney and bounced off the roof of one house, then dove into another residence 50 feet away on Rhonda Road, roughly a mile east of the airport, with most of the plane crumpling inside a bedroom on the southwest corner, investigators said, adding that parts of the airframe were strewn onto the lawns of surrounding homes.

Hijazi, his 67-year-old wife, Dana Hijazi and family friend, 22-year-old Adine Farelas, were killed on impact. Farelas’ mother, Silvia Farelas, suffered major injuries, but is in recovery. Another passenger, 46-year-old Stacey Joanne Pierce, suffered burns to more than 90 percent of her body. She died Tuesday night at Arrowhead Regional Medical Center in Colton.

No one on the ground was hurt. However, as the NTSB noted in its report, a post-crash fire erupted that consumed one residence belonging to a family of five, who were permanently displaced.

Another home was also seriously damaged, while two residences had minor impacts.

The NTSB did not disclose Hijazi’s flight hours. However, Federal Aviation Administration records showed that he was an airline transport pilot and a certified flight instructor, who had passed a medical exam in October.

The victims had traveled to Southern California to attend a weekend cheerleading conference at Disneyland in which Adine Farelas’ younger sister participated.

A detailed report on the accident, with conclusions about the likely cause, will be released later this year, or in early 2018.

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