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Heater Focus Of Investigation Into Kansas Plane Crash That Killed ORU Grads

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The crash happened near Chanute, Kansas on May 11, 2012. [NTSB Photo] The crash happened near Chanute, Kansas on May 11, 2012. [NTSB Photo]
Anderson (left) died the next morning. Three men died at the scene: Stephen Luth, Garrett Coble and pilot Luke Sheets. Anderson (left) died the next morning. Three men died at the scene: Stephen Luth, Garrett Coble and pilot Luke Sheets.
Hannah Luce was the only survivor. Hannah Luce was the only survivor.
Photo of the cabin heater. [NTSB Photo] Photo of the cabin heater. [NTSB Photo]
CHANUTE, Kansas -

The NTSB is focusing on the cabin heater in its investigation of a plane crash in Kansas that killed four men with ties to Oral Roberts University in Tulsa.

The Cessna 401 crashed on the afternoon of May 11, 2012 near Chanute, Kansas.

A woman who had recently graduated from ORU was the only survivor.

The pilot, Luke F. Sheets, 23, of Wisconsin, died in the crash. So did passengers Stephen J. Luth, 22, of Iowa and Garrett V. Coble, 29, of Tulsa.

Austin G. Anderson of Enid, 27, survived the impact but died the next day at a Wichita hospital. Anderson pulled 22-year-old Hannah Luce of Texas out of the burning wreckage.

5/12/2012: Related Story: Kansas Plane Crash Claims Lives Of ORU Graduates, Former Teacher

According to the Factual Report on the incident from the National Transportation Safety Board, the five had taken off from Jones Riverside Airport en route to Council Bluffs, Iowa for a conference of Teen Mania Ministries.

Read the NTSB's Factual Report.

The NTSB says Luce provided a written statement to investigators. She wrote that there was a "terrible smell" when the pilot turned on the heater, but that the pilot told the group the odor was normal. 

She wrote that when the pilot turned off the heater, black smoke began to enter the cabin, making it difficult to see. She said the group poured water from water bottles into the heater vents to try to put out the fire but it had no effect.

The pilot then quickly descended and attempted an emergency landing when a wingtip hit the ground. She believes the plane rolled over as it hit the ground. She told investigators another passenger helped her get out of the airplane but later died. Friends have said that passenger was Anderson, a former Marine who had served two tours in Iraq.

According to the NTSB, the pilot was rated as a commercial pilot and had more than 600 hours of flight time.

The NTSB says the aircraft was equipped with a South Wind combustion heater which was last overhauled in 1994. The NTSB says the heater was inspected on January 6, 2011, where it was listed as inoperative. According to the report, a mechanic found some problems with the heater on February 9, 2011 while trying to find out why it wouldn't work, but there was no indication that it was returned to service.

A flight instructor who had flown with the pilot on April 25, 2012 in a check ride required by the insurance company told the NTSB the heater's overheat light had come on briefly when they turned the heater on, but the heater shut down. Once they landed he showed the pilot how to reset the circuit breaker.

Investigators examined the heater after recovering it from the wreckage. They say the spark plug had heavy soot on it, the igniter switch was misaligned and the combustion chamber "was heavily sooted." They say the combustion chamber also had many leaks.

The NTSB says Airworthiness Directive 81-09-09 requires such a heater to be inspected every 250 hours of use and overhauled every 1,000 hours, but there's no guidance about disabling the heater if the inspection is not completed or the heater is inoperable.

The Factual Report is the second of three reports the NTSB will complete on the crash. The Probable Cause Report will be the last and should be finished in a few months.

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