NTSB releases Wejebe report

Federal investigators have concluded the cause of the plane crash that killed Florida Keys-based fishing legend Jose “Spanish Fly” Wejebe last year was pilot error.

“The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) determines the probable cause of this accident to be the pilot’s failure to maintain sufficient airspeed during the initial climb after takeoff, which resulted in an aerodynamic stall and loss of airplane speed,” according to a full and final 5-page report issued in September.

Wejebe, 54, of Summerland Key, died on April 6, 2012, after taking off in his small Comp Air 8 airplane at Everglades Airpark in Everglades City. Wejebe was alone in the plane that a witness said crashed on airport property about 5 p.m. and then caught fire.

“Witnesses observed the airplane depart the airport to the north and make an abrupt right turn at an altitude of about 150 feet,” the NTSB eport states. “One witness, who was also a pilot, described the wings as ‘shimmying,’ appearing as if the airplane stalled before it banked to the right in a nose-down attitude. The airplane crashed and was nearly consumed during the post-fire crash. A post-accident explosion was conducted with no preimpact mechanical anomalies noted.”

Wejebe built the single-engine kit airplane as well as the Walter 601 turboprop engine in 2006 and it received a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certificate, according to the report. He was the only person on board and was headed for Merritt Island.

The report notes nothing out-of-the-ordinary about the weather that day — winds were blowing 14 mph from the northwest with 24 mph gusts.

Investigators removed a hard drive, or “black box,” from the airplane, but “the download of the recording revealed no content of the accidental flight,” according to the report.

It also notes that Wejebe suffered heart disease and 80 percent of his coronary arteries were blocked, but nothing in the report suggests that was a factor in the crash, as was the case with the Valium that was found in his blood.

“The amount (of Valium) noted in the pilot’s blood suggested he took the drug 12 to 24 hours before the accident, and, as a result, if would not have affected his performance,” the report states.

Wejebe had no previous accidents or incidents with the FAA.

He was born in 1958 in Havana, Cuba, and was known for his extensive travels chasing big game fish as well as his extensive backcountry fly-fishing expertise, specifically around the Florida Keys.

Wejebe, who hosted “Spanish Fly,” a saltwater fishing show on the Outdoor Channel, and formerly appeared on ESPN and National Geographic Wil, often was alongside his fellow fishing captains based in the Keys.

The first episode of “Spanish Fly” aired in 1995.

Wejebe helped several charities, including Make-A-Wish Foundation, Cystic Fibrosis, and Big Brothers and Big Sisters.

alinhardt@keysnews.com

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