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Pilot disorientation in clouds likely caused Gainesville plane crash that killed 3, NTSB says
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Authorities work the scene of a plane crash Friday, Feb. 26, 2021, in the Memorial Park Drive area of Gainesville. - photo by Scott Rogers

The National Transportation Safety Board investigating a February 2021 plane crash in Gainesville that killed three people believe the pilot likely became disoriented while flying with low visibility.

The safety board released its final report March 22 on the Feb. 26, 2021, crash killing Dan Delnoce, 44, of Gainesville, Courtney Flanders, 45, of Gainesville, and Matthew Delnoce, 39, of Ohio.

Matthew and Dan were brothers, and Flanders was married to Dan Delnoce.

Dan Delnoce and Courtney Flanders Provided by Kerra Murray

The plane was heading out around 6 p.m. Feb. 26, 2021 from Lee Gilmer Memorial Airport in Gainesville to the airport in Daytona Beach, Florida. It crashed in the Memorial Park Drive area of Gainesville.

Dan Delnoce, the pilot, worked at Specialty Orthopaedics in Gainesville, while Flanders worked at Anesthesia Associates of Gainesville. According to the safety board’s report, Dan Delnoce had 384 hours of flight time.

At the time of the crash, it was cold, windy and there was low visibility.

Investigators examining the airplane and engine did not see any malfunctions that would have prevented Delnoce from operating the plane normally.

“The accident and distribution of the wreckage were consistent with impact at high speed and with the engine producing power,” according to the final report.

The air traffic controller gave Delnoce a safety alert when it started descending, but there was no response.

The report stated that the airplane’s climbs, descents and changes in groundspeed are consistent with Delnoce experiencing “spatial disorientation,” where the pilot cannot correctly comprehend how fast they are going and where they are in relation to the ground.

“Contributing to the accident was the pilot’s decision to depart into low instrument meteorological conditions,” according to the report.

The plane touched the top of a 50-foot tree roughly three-quarters of a mile southwest of the Gainesville airport runway’s approach end. 

It then hit another tree around 30 feet above ground with the left wing and fuselage, causing the two to separate, according to the report.

Part of the wing fell through the roof of a mobile home. No one in the home was injured.

A driver stopped at a red light saw the plane falling and coming apart, according to the report.

The driver’s husband jumped out to see if anyone was alive.

“I then stayed on the phone till police got on scene,” the witness told authorities. “I had to constantly scream at onlookers to stop picking up pieces of the plane.”

Dan Delnoce’s friend told authorities he considered Dan a “very proficient pilot with state-of-the-art electronics/instruments” but less familiar with traditional, analog instruments.

The friend said he was “very upset” at Delnoce for flying in those weather conditions.