Pilot dies month after Verona crash

The plane crash that killed Northern Kentucky University student Evan Ryan on Labor Day also resulted in the death of the pilot at University Hospital Oct. 3.

James Rodney “Rod” Tarter Jr., of Verona, Ky., died at 3:48 p.m. a month after the crash, according to www.cmrfamiliies.com, a Comair employee Web site.

Tarter sustained burns to more than 80 percent of his body and had several surgeries and skin grafts to repair the damage, but the grafts failed to adhere, causing infection and then fever which killed him, according to the Comair site.

Tarter was flying his 35-year-old Schrack Starduster Too at the wedding rehearsal of Ryan’s brother, taking guests on short flights from a private airstrip when the crash occurred.

According to a preliminary report by the National Transportation Safety Board, witnesses said that the engine sounded “rough,” “popping” and “sputtering” before takeoff. “One witness said that as the airplane began its taxi for takeoff, the engine ‘sputtered again and almost stalled,’ before it ran smoothly again,” the NTSB report stated.

Tarter talked with a witness via hand-held radio, saying he heard the popping sound, but Tarter believed the sputtering was the result of a fouled spark plug and that he would “burn it off,” according to the report.

Although a “blackish/grey smoke puffed” from the exhaust during taxi, the report stated, Tarter said the airplane “sounds good” over the radio and began the takeoff roll.

A witness quoted in the NTSB report said the airplane started to turn left before the engine stopped and the plane “nosed over” into the trees.

The plane hit the trees first, then the ground, where it was consumed by fire, according to the report. The plane’s engine, examined under the supervision of a Federal Aviation Administration inspector, was found to be “experimental” due to modifications made since it had left the factory. Disassembly of the engine, the report states, “revealed no pre-impact anomalies or deficiencies.”

According to the report, a critical care nurse, a guest at the rehearsal, rushed to Tarter’s aid after the crash. He told her the plane “started to veer to the left and then inverted; while inverted veered right and crashed into the woods,” as quoted by the NTSB.

Tarter had no explanation for the crash, the NTSB reported.

He had an estimated 8,700 hours of flight experience, 50 of which were in the same make and model of the plane in question.