A possibly overloaded glider that crashed near the summit of Sterling Mountain in Morristown a year and a half ago, killing the pilot and his two passengers, did not have proper seat belts installed for the passengers, according to a new report from the National Transportation Safety Board.
Pilot Don Post, 70, of Stowe and two passengers from Hamden, Conn., Frank Moroz, 58, and Suzanne Moroz, 56, died in the crash Aug. 29, 2018.
The report said the cause of the crash was an apparent “aerodynamic stall/spin” that occurred on a cloudy day with gusty winds.
According to investigators, the glider — a 1973 Schweizer SGS 2-32 — was 50 pounds heavier than its “maximum allowable gross weight” of 1,430 pounds. The report refers to a chapter in the FAA Glider Flying Handbook about glider performance, saying various aspects of a glider’s airspeed are increased in proportion to the plane’s weight.
The glider should have had four shoulder harnesses, one in the front seat for the pilot and three in the back seat for the passengers, according to the report. But an FAA aviation safety inspector examined the seat belts after the glider was recovered, and “he confirmed that there were no shoulder harnesses installed in the glider and that only a single lap belt was installed to restrain the two rear seat passengers,” the report states.
The Morozes were sharing a single lap belt, “which significantly diminished the rear seat occupants’ survivability,” the report said.
Post had actually bought an additional set of seat belts and shoulder harnesses for the glider two months before the crash, but had not yet installed them.
The preliminary accident report says the tow pilot told investigators the flight was meant to be a 30-minute sightseeing tour. A witness hiking near Sterling Pond saw the glider and tow plane disengage and “he watched the glider ‘disappear’ into the clouds.” The tow pilot told investigators that he had to weave around the clouds, but there was plenty of room between them, and the air was “really smooth.” Some of the mountaintops were partially obscured.
In the final report, the tow pilot — who was flying one of the planes that went back out to look for the glider — told investigators he thought there was some unusual discrepancy in weather reporting sites, with Plattsburgh reporting winds of 37 knots and Morristown reporting 16 knots. He said Post typically checked the weather before a flight.
Post was an experienced pilot with thousands of hours in the sky — the NTSB report says logbooks revealed Post had accrued 3,103 total hours of flight experience, 1,214 of them in gliders.
Post’s glider outfit, Stowe Soaring, was dissolved last March.
Two months earlier, a law firm representing the estates of both Morozes filed notice of claims “for wrongful death.” Both claims list “several million dollars” as their amounts.
Post’s lawyer, Robert Hemley of the law firm Gravel & Shea, said the claims should be rejected because neither the NTSB nor anyone else had determined Post was responsible for the Morozes’ deaths, and no judgment in any court had established that, either.