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Fatal facts: New report traces deadly Thanksgiving Day crash flight path

Pilot Hill couple’s plane was mechanically sound, antihistamine found in pilot’s blood
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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A new report from the National Transportation Safety Board is giving the people Larry and Janet Ampulski left behind a detailed picture of what happened last Nov. 22 in North Auburn on a fatal flight that would take both their lives. The board investigation's factual report, which still leaves open a possible followup report on probable cause for the crash, outlines everything from the mechanical fitness of the couple’s rented Cessna 177 to the presence of allergy medication in the pilot’s bloodstream to eyewitness accounts from people watching the plane from the ground. The Ampulskis took off from Auburn Municipal Airport on Thanksgiving Day for a short morning flight that ended about two hours later when the four-seat prop plane – owned by life coach Wayne Manning of Auburn – seemingly fell to the ground. The Pilot Hill couple – described by a relative after the crash as vibrant and active in outdoor sports – were killed instantly, along with their dog. On the airplane, the report said it had last had a 50-hour inspection in early October. Conditions that day were clear with a slight wind and the temperature in the upper 50s. “Examination of the engine and system components revealed no evidence of pre-impact mechanical malfunction,” the board report said. The report’s statement on facts was met with relief by plane owner Manning. “As well as a continuing sense of sadness and grief for the family,” he said. “If there’s any gratification from this, it’s that the airplane was mechanically sound.” The report said an employee of the airport’s Power Aviation watched the plane take off, with a high angle of ascent and relative lack of forward airspeed as it traveled west. Earlier, pilot Larry Ampulski “was having difficulty entering the secured ramp area and the employee assisted him,” the report said. A witness standing on her deck said she heard an airplane that seemed louder than normal coming over her house about two hours later. The woman indicated that “it sounded like it was at full throttle and very low,” the report said. “Its wings were banked sharply to the left and its nose was pointed at the ground,” she told investigators. An aerobatic pilot playing golf at The Ridge nearby said he saw the plane flying in a “nose high position at very low airspeed” and didn’t hear engine power. “The airplane then rolled first to the right, then to the left, and it sounded like full power was applied each time the airplane rolled,” the report said. “The third roll was to the right and the airplane ‘snapped on its back to the inverted position, nose down (before the crash).’” Ampulski, 55, held a private pilot certificate and had joined the Sierra Vista Aviation Flying Club at the airport a month before the crash. He had completed checkouts both on the ground and with other airplanes. He had also flown the accident airplane one time previously. “The certified flight instructor indicated that he didn’t see anything that indicated the pilot would be unsafe or incapable of safely operating the airplane,” the report said. Manning had owned the plane for 12 years but was medically grounded at the time because he was using beta-blockers for a heart condition. The report also details blood toxicology tests by the Placer County Coroner, which found no alcohol or carbon monoxide but did pinpoint evidence of allergy medication in the pilot’s sample. The report found over-the-counter medication components brompheniramine, dephenydramine and pseudophedrine. The Journal’s Gus Thomson can be reached at gust@goldcountrymedia.com.