911 calls released in fatal LaPorte County ultralight crash

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The South Bend pilot killed in an ultralight plane crash Sunday morning, had owned the aircraft for less than two weeks.

Benjamin Hubbard, 36, a 1994 Mishawaka High School graduate and aviation enthusiast, was found dead among the wreckage. Emergency workers found him in a LaPorte County corn field, near the 6400 block of E. Division Rd., southeast of Rolling Prairie.

The Federal Aviation Administration confirms Hubbard was flying a Challenger II ultralight plane at the time. The fixed wing single-engine aircraft, with tail number N1519, was manufactured in 2012. According to FAA records, Hubbard received the aircraft on July 10, 2013.

Federal and local officials say Hubbard departed the Jerry Tyler Memorial Airport in Niles around 6:30 a.m. EST Sunday. He was flying to the Plymouth Municipal Airport to meet a friend for breakfast. It's unclear if a scenic detour or mechanical issue caused him to crash roughly ten miles off course, in the field of corn measuring ten feet tall.

A man driving nearby at the time of the crash witnessed and heard the collision. He dialed 911 on his cell phone to report it.

Dispatcher: "911, what's the address of the emergency?"

Caller: "I think, I think a plane just crashed over here, a little plane."

Dispatcher: "A plane crashed?"

Caller: "Yeah, it's 600 and Division. I'm driving down here. I just seen it go and I heard it hit."

Dispatcher: "Okay, we'll get everyone en-route there."

Caller: "Alright, thanks."

LaPorte County Sheriff’s Department deputies were dispatched the general area, but didn’t locate any signs of distress. They ultimately decided the call was a false report.

The pilot and friend Hubbard was flying to meet in Plymouth became concerned when the South Bend resident never showed. That friend boarded his Cessna aircraft and retraced Hubbard’s flight path when he spotted the crash site around 12:55 p.m. EST, and dialed 911 from his plane.

Dispatcher: "911, what's the address of the emergency?"

Caller: "I can't hear you very well, I’m in an airplane. I found the plane that crashed this morning."

Dispatcher: "Is that the red plane?"

Caller: "It's the red plane, it's crashed in the field, it doesn't look too good."

Dispatcher: "if you could keep circling the area, we have our officers and everybody on the way, okay?

Caller: "Okay.”

By Monday, there was a somber feel PPC Innovations, a power parachute and ultralight repair company based at the Plymouth Municipal Airport.

"It's a small community, especially in this category of aircraft, so you think about it when you fly again. We don't know what happened yet, but all kinds of things run through a pilot's mind. People want to know what happened,” said Brian McCallen, an aviation mechanic of 14 years.

While McCallen hadn’t worked on Hubbard’s actual aircraft, he has repaired identical homebuilt models, which typically cost $16,000 to $18,000 to craft from scratch.

"It’s hard to say what happened, but the Challenger II is a well-built aircraft. It flies nice as it’s a three axis-controlled aircraft. It has ailerons, an elevators and a rudder. So it’s basically like a Cessna, but smaller,” McCallen added.

Hubbard, who lived in a modest one-story home in South Bend’s River Park neighborhood, was a self-professed handyman. NewsCenter 16 interviewed him in Feb. 2010, as he sat behind the wheel of his snow plow during a winter blizzard. However, loved ones, including his fiancé say flying and the great outdoors were his true loves.

Hubbard’s obituary and funeral arrangements, can be found here.

LaPorte County coroner John Sullivan tells NewsCenter 16 a preliminary autopsy report conducted at St. Joseph Hospital in Fort Wayne determined Hubbard died from blunt force trauma.

“There have been questions regarding if rescuers found him sooner, would he have survived the crash. Due to the extreme condition of his bodily injuries, I am very confident this gentleman passed when his aircraft hit the ground,” Sullivan said.

Per FAA protocol, a full toxicology test will be conducted on Hubbard’s body. Those results should be available by the end of next week.

Hubbard was not in contact with air traffic controllers. Plain and simple, he wasn't required to be. His Challenger II was also not equipped with an audio or instrument recording device.

On Monday, investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board arrived at the LaPorte Municipal Airport to process Hubbard's plane, which is being stored in a locked hangar. The NTSB will release a preliminary accident report within ten business days. The final report could take several months to a year to complete.

To review the FAA registration of Hubbard’s plane, click here.


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