Former ExecuFlight captain says company lied, altered documents after Akron plane crash

Posted at 12:21 PM, Oct 17, 2016
and last updated 2016-10-17 21:47:18-04

A former captain and pilot with the company who owned the plane that crashed in Akron in 2015, killing nine, has come forward saying the company destroyed and altered records after the fatal crash.

Donnie Shackleford said he was asked to lie in emails following the fatal accident and noted the company provided false information after the crash. 

Shackleford said he was a Hawker 125 pilot with ExecuFlight for about two years, having been hired in 2014. He was fired in August of 2016 because he said he "wouldn't play ball with them." 

In an interview with the National Transportation Safety Board, Shackleford said he felt officials with ExecuFlight purposely misled the federal investigators. 

Read the transcript from the interview below

"Providing false weight and balance would be a good one," Shackleford said when asked to give an example. "They made such a scramble to change records and eliminate stuff right after that accident, it would make your head spin. I know they created false weight and balance. I know that for a fact.

"They were doing everything they could to make sure that they weren't putting my company at fault," Shackleford said.

Shackleford said he was asked by ExecuFlight CEO Augusto "Danny" Lewkowicz in a series of emails to lie to NTSB officials about the flight crash in the deposition.

Information provided to the NTSB by ExecuFlight officials after the crash showed all the passengers weighed 200 pounds. 

"That, to me, was created after the fact. Now, I can't swear to it, but I would bet my life on it." Shackleford said. "I don't believe there was ever a weight and balance done for that flight." 

He said that while it's normal for captains to ask passengers their weights instead of weighing them, usually the weights varied and captains would add about ten pounds to each person to be on the safe side. 

"They had 200 pounds for each passenger. There was women and men onboard and I am sure that there was a lot of people on there that was probably different weights than 200 pounds," Shackleford said. "No, it's not normal. ... And that is the reason I am saying I think that that was created after the fact."

The NTSB interview also heavily focused on a flight in which Shackleford flew with Renato Marchese — one of the pilot's that was killed in the Akron crash— just days before the accident.

Shackleford alleged that ExecuFlight provided false information to investigators regarding the facts of that flight. 

He also gave examples of other instances in which he took issue with the company's standards: 

They sent me down to Miami to pick up some people and fly a part for an airplane that had broke down down to Central America somewhere. When we get there, that part was 750 pounds or something like that, and I asked them, I said -- they were talking about getting a forklift to put it on board an airplane. I said, "This is a Hawker. You've got to be joking," and I refused the trip. Number one, you just can't just go stick something that weighs 700 or 800 pounds on an airplane. There's limitations, and it exceeded limitations left and right. 

The NTSB also interviewed Lewkowicz regarding the weight issue. Below is a portion of the transcript:

Q: Okay. Is that an accurate weight and balance for the accident flight?

A: Based on this standard of 200 pounds per person, I would say no, just as I said no on the first one.

Q Okay. Did anybody question the crew at any point in time prior to their departure that this weight and balance that you had was inaccurate for that particular flight?

A No, not that I'm aware of.

Lewkowicz went on to explain that it's the pilot's responsibility to make sure the weight information is correct.

"To answer your question, no, we do not supervise every single action that is taken place by the crews," he said, according to the transcript. "We're expecting them to do things as they know they should. And, flying within gross weight is one of them."

A report released by the NTSB in Aprilrevealed that the plane was more than 600 pounds overweight when it crashed.

ExecuFlight disputed those claims. In a statement to the NTSB, the company wrote: 

Although the possibilities and variables for the "actual" weight calculation are many, ExecuFlight, LLC. submits that the evidence and procedures in this case demonstrate N237WR was in fact below the maximum takeoff weight at the time of takeoff, and below the maximum landing weight at the time of the accident.

The Crash

On Nov. 10, 2015, a pilot, co-pilot and seven passengers were killed when ExecuFlight flight 1526 crashed into a four-unit apartment complex in Akron. The plane was flying from Dayton-Wright Brothers Airport to Akron Fulton International Airport. 

The small twin-engine plane crashed into power lines before hitting the apartment building near Mogadore Road. Both the apartment complex and neighboring building caught fire as a result of the crash. No one was inside the apartment complex during the crash.

"We're completely at a loss for words," Lewkowicz said at the time. "We are very confident that they're a good crew and (it's) a very good airplane. It's just shocking to us as it is to anyone else."  

The Crew

NTSB documents show that both crew members, captain Oscar Chavez and first officer Renato Marchese, had been fired from their prior jobs as pilots.

Chavez was fired from Heralpin USA in 2015 for failing to attend training. Marchese was fired from his previous job for unsatisfactory work performance. ExecuFlight hired both pilots about five months prior to the crash. 

Marchese worked at SkyKing before being hired at ExecuFlight. His personnel files show that he had memory problems and issues managing weight and balance measurements on his flights. Documents show Marchese also failed to attend training. 


Textron Aviation, the parent company of the plane manufacturer, concluded in a submission to the NTSB that error on the part of the crew likely caused the fatal crash.  

According to the company's analysis, the crew failed to maintain airspeed on its approach, resulting in an aerodynamic stall "from which they did not recover." The company also stated that the crew failed to work through checklists during the approach and demonstrated minimal, if any, Cockpit Resource Management techniques. 

Tim Lanigan, a local pilot and flight instructor, said pilot error will be the likely cause.

"Basically what they're saying is the aircraft came down on instrument approach. They got too slow. The wings basically stopped providing lift because they were so slow and the aircraft departed controlled flight," Lanigan said.

In ExecuFlight's statement, the company said it had "a robust safety culture" and "well-proven Standard Operating Procedures." Additionally, the company said "air traffic control errors and inadequate communication from air traffic control to the accident flight crew" contributed to the cause of the crash. 

The NTSB will meet Tuesday at 9:30 a.m. to determine probable cause of the charter flight crash.