HARRIETSTOWN — The pilot who crashed in Lake Clear April 18 had $60,000 in cash with him when he died and had changed his name 15 years earlier.

The mystery surrounding the fatal crash continues to unfold, as the National Transportation Safety Board issued its preliminary report, calling the incident an accident.



NAME CHANGE

The Beechcraft B55 twin-engine, registered as N868ST, crashed shortly after taking off at 1:14 p.m. under clear visibility.

The pilot, who was identified at the wreckage as Scott E. Thomas by membership cards, medical consultations, credit cards and subsequently in several Beechcraft club photos and Web sites, was not listed among airmen licensed by the Federal Aviation Administration.

Upon further investigation, State Police found Thomas had apparently changed his name and Social Security number in 1992 from a previous identity of Phillip W. Cook.

State Police Investigator Larry Cragle said the Cook identity was confirmed with fingerprints of the pilot’s body.

There are indications he had a criminal past before the name change, Cragle said.

He said that when Thomas crashed, he had a total of $60,000 in cash on the plane, both on his person and in a suitcase. No criminal activity has been linked to the money, Cragle said.

But the investigation is ongoing.

The National Transportation Safety Board report said the pilot’s license was held under the name Phillip W. Cook.

“According to FAA records, under the second name (Cook), the pilot held a commercial pilot certificate with a single-engine land and instrument-airplane ratings.

“He also held a flight-instructor certificate, for airplane single engine, which expired on June 30, 1978. The pilot’s latest FAA second-class medical certificate was issued on November 20, 1981, and at the time, the pilot claimed 3,000 hours of flight experience.”



DIFFERENT DIRECTION

In the preliminary report, the crash is listed an accident, but no possible cause was indicated.

Three witnesses in the investigation described how the small twin-engine plane went “nose-high” to about 400 feet and abruptly barrel-rolled before crashing straight down into trees beside the runway.

The plane’s instrument flight plan had been filed for a flight to Fitchburg Municipal Airport in Fitchburg, Mass., but Thomas (Cook), the pilot, had told the airport’s service technician, who fueled the airplane’s tanks, that he was “flying to Minnesota and then California,” the report said.

An airport technician reported putting 44 gallons into the plane’s main fuel tanks, filling it.



NO WRECKAGE PATH

At the crash site, National Transportation Safety Board reported the tail section was broken off to one side and the wings were bent, one fore the other aft.

“Except for ground scars consistent with an approximately 10-foot bound, there was no wreckage path,” investigator Paul Cox wrote.



FRIENDS UPSET

News of the accident stunned the pilot’s Beechcraft colleagues.

A few friends in Beechcraft clubs around the country had shared reminiscences of Thomas’s life in days following the crash.

One friend, Stephen St. Louis, e-mailed the Press-Republican, saying he had known Thomas for three years and considered him a father figure.

“Scott and I were very close friends for the past three years,” St. Louis wrote.

“I spent my summers in Saranac Lake [sic] at the airport as the engineer overseeing construction. We spent many nights together talking mostly about flying, but Scott taught me many life lessons, about much more than just aviation.

“He was an only child growing up; his father was a neurologist and also an excellent pilot. When Scott was in kindergarten, he thought everyone owned an airplane; (it) was the norm for him.

“Scott got his pilot’s license when he was just 14 and instrument certified shortly thereafter. He lived to fly; that was it. I know his dream was to fly around the world in his plane and to become a member of the ‘Earth Rounders.’

“As far as his occupation, Scott had a math degree from a college in TX (not sure which one) and his current profession was trading stocks as a day trader. Scott truly influenced my life (in) a big way. He’ll always be missed; he was like a second father to me.”

After reading the National Transportation Safety Board report, St. Louis said he was somewhat confused over Thomas’s dual identity.

Lorraine Carter, director of the Beechcraft museum in Tullahoma, Tenn., was distraught to learn of Thomas’s accident in April but knew him to be an integral member of the Beechcraft flight and restoration community.

Carter, like St. Louis, could offer no further information on Thomas’s previous identity.



E-mail Kim Smith Dedam at:

kdedam@pressrepublican.com

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