Shima Funakoshi, left, and mother Yoshiko Funakoshi died in a 2003 crash in Alaska.
In the sky over Idaho in icy weather, the Cessna 208B's wings began to flutter, and pilot Fred Villanueva, a Vietnam War veteran, could not hold them. The wings moved ''side to side," a witness said, and then the nose dropped -- classic signs of icing.
With a giant boom, the Cessna crashed into a plowed field. Villanueva and his Salmon Air co-worker, Raymond Ingram, were killed that morning, Dec. 6, 2004.
Nine months later, when the National Transportation Safety Board assessed blame for the air cargo crash, it cited the pilot for failing to keep control.
The case is not unique: In eight of every 10 fatal U.S. cargo crashes since 2000, the NTSB has blamed the person in the cockpit as the primary reason for the disaster, a Miami Herald investigation found.
The "probable cause'' findings, typically winnowed to a few sentences, are often the final word on why a plane went down.
Yet a Miami Herald review of probable cause reports on every fatal U.S. cargo crash since 2000 shows other contributing factors were ignored or downplayed, raising doubts about whether dozens of the crashes should have been blamed on the pilot.
| Reporting by Ronnie Greene | Photography by Candace Barbot | Audio Editing by Rhonda Victor Sibilia | Online Production by Stephanie Rosenblatt | (c) Miami Herald July 9, 2006 |