ANGELINA COUNTY, TX (KTRE) - Angelina County Judge Wes Suiter confirmed Thursday that an employee at the airport put the wrong kind of fuel in the twin-engine Cessna 421B that crashed on US Highway 59 south of Diboll last week.
Suiter said that the county had to let the employee go because of the mistake even though the young man is well-liked. The county judge also said that according to protocol the pilot is supposed to be present when his or her plane is being fueled.
In addition, Suiter said the pilot, Edd Campbell Hendee, of Houston, signed the receipt that listed the fuel that was put in his plane, jet fuel. Hendee is the owner of Taste of Texas, a well-known Houston restaurant.
According to the Texas Department of Public Safety, the Cessna 421B took off from the Angelina County airport and was on its way to Houston. After takeoff, the plane experienced some type of mechanical issue and went down into the inside southbound lane of US 59, then skidded into the grassy median.
A preliminary report from the National Transportation Safety Board stated that the plane's right fuel tank ruptured in the crash, and "[T]he smell of Jet-A fuel was prominent at the accident scene."
Hendee and his two passengers were taken to a Lufkin hospital for treatment of their injuries. CHI St. Luke's Memorial spokeswoman Yana Ogletree said that Hendee was flown to a Houston hospital later that day.
A relative of Hendee published an account what happened on April 17 on the Taste of Texas Facebook page.
"This afternoon the FAA verified that the airport loaded the airplane with jet fuel (kerosene) instead of aviation gasoline which is very high octane gasoline," the Facebook post stated. "Kerosene will not run in an engine or engines like Edd has in that airplane. Edd's airplane cleared the fuel lines of gasoline and then the kerosene hit. Bad news and worse news."
The family member wrote that Hendee was on a business flight from Kansas City to Houston. When Hendee crossed over into Texas, "big nasty thunderstorms" were rolling across the Lone Star State.
According to the Facebook post, Hendee made the decision to land at the Angelina County Airport. They put a tarp on the Cessna, topped off its tanks and spent the night at a hotel. The next morning, Hendee did a pre-flight check and took off.
The Facebook post stated that after Hendee got to an altitude of about 1,500 feet, he noticed that something was wrong.
"Suddenly one engine begins to choke. Fair enough, this happens, he trims up and does what he needs to do if he loses that engine," the Facebook post stated. "He has trained for this for years, over and over. The engine dies. It is working no more. But the 'good engine' is showing the same signs and a few seconds later it quits."
At that point, the plane was like a "poor glider," according to the post. Hendee knew he had to trade altitude for speed and pointed the plane's nose down to maintain his speed, the Facebook post stated. However, he quickly hit a cloud layer and lost visibility.
"We heard from the tower that he declared an emergency and was very business-like on the radio," the Facebook post stated.
When Hendee's plane came out of the cloud layer, he was at an altitude of about 700 feet, the Facebook post stated.
"Edd has at best a few seconds to choose a landing spot and then he has to get busy making preparations to bring the airplane to the spot and make it happen," the Facebook post stated.
According to the post, Hendee spotted US Highway 59, and as luck would have it, he was already lined up, so he didn't have to make any turns. He spotted a break in the traffic right where he needed to put the Cessna down.
"He drops his landing gear and does the very best he can to flare the airplane to slow his vertical drop before they hit," the Facebook post stated. "He misses the light poles, hits the highway and bounces, crushing his left landing gear. They come down again. The right landing gear collapses and is torn away, and Lord knows what happens to the nose wheel. But it's gone."
The Facebook post stated that the twin-engine plane skidded down the highway and wound up in the median, where the wet soil helped slow it down even further.
"Edd asks his passengers to clear the plane as he shuts down all of the electrical and takes care of the airplane," the Facebook post stated. "Finally Edd comes out, slowly, and limps over to the side of the highway and lies down. His back hurts."
The writer of the Facebook post said God was protecting Hendee and his two passengers throughout the entire incident. According to the post, Hendee shattered a vertebrae, and one of the pieces wound up in Hendee's spinal canal. The post said Hendee could have wound up paralyzed from the waist down.
"As it is, they think his body will heal itself entirely in 90 days," the post stated. "The body will consume that piece in the spinal canal."