Plane crash lands at St. Mary's airport

Officials investigate a 1971 Piper airplane owned by the Patuxent River Navy Flying Club that crashed last December near a runway at St. Mary’s county airport in Hollywood.

A small airplane owned by the Patuxent River Navy Flying Club hit trees and made a hard landing last December at St. Mary’s County Regional Airport due to errors by the pilot and an instructor, according to federal investigators.

The probable cause of the mishap, according to the findings posted last week by the National Transportation Safety Board, included “the student pilot’s descent below the prescribed final approach path at night, and [the] flight instructor’s failure to correct the student pilot’s descent.”

The federal agency’s update followed an initial investigation by Maryland State Police, who report that after the 8:30 p.m. incident on Dec. 10, Joseph Stanley Dziewit, the 81-year-old instructor, told law officers that he advised the pilot, 23-year-old Mark Evan Ragland of California, to increase the plane’s power and pull up, because they were too low.

“Mr. Dziewit stated that Mr. Ragland accidentally did the opposite and decreased the power to the aircraft,” according to police, “causing the plane to crash into trees just short of the runway.”

Neither Dziewit nor Ragland were injured in the accident at the airport in Hollywood involving the club’s 1971 Piper aircraft.

The flight instructor told NTSB investigators that the pilot’s first night flight included takeoffs and landings, according to the agency’s narrative, stating that the instructor reiterated that he told the student to climb after drifting below the approach path.

“The flight instructor reported that subsequently he, the instructor, ‘became confused’ and could not determine the airplane’s position relative to the runway,” according to the NTSB’s probable cause findings. “The flight instructor reported that he ‘snapped out of the condition,’ but the airplane collided with trees and impacted the ground short of the runway before a recovery could be made.”

Dziewit could not be reached for comment during a call this week to his Lexington Park residence.

The pilot reported “no preimpact mechanical failures or malfunctions,” according to the federal agency.