What Happened to Night Ship 282?
By James Donahue
Investigators remain baffled over the events that
caused the crash of a Cessna cargo plane piloted by Thomas J. Preziose near Spanish Fort, Alabama,
on the night of Oct. 23, 2002.
The 54-year-old pilot died when his aircraft, code named
Night Ship 282, struck a mysterious unknown object and then crashed in the mud of Big
Bateau Bay. Just what it was
the collided with the plane, and how the accident happened, may always remain a mystery.
Investigators found red streaks on pieces of the shredded
craft. The red color does not match red mail bags or other objects known to be in the cargo the plane was carrying. Also found
is a small piece of black anodized aluminum embedded in the skin of the wreck. It came from something other than the Cessna.
Preziose, a retired police officer and life-long flier,
was working for Mid-Atlantic Freight, flying the Cessna Caravan on a nightly cargo run from Mobile
to Montgomery, Alabama, and Atlanta, Georga.
On the night of the crash, Preziose was carrying 420 pounds
of cargo, including a shipment of baseball hats. Before leaving Mobile
Downtown Airport, Preziose told
controllers he planned to fly at 9,000 feet because "the radar's out," which was an indication that the plane's weather radar
was not operating.
They said Preziose banked his plane north, and controllers
instructed him to climb to 3,000 feet and turn right, toward the east. The controller also advised that an inbound DC10 aircraft
was flying south at 4,000 feet. Preziose replied: "Roger, I got him above me right now."
Even as he was saying this, however, records show that
Preziose's plane was starting a rapid, but apparently controlled descent. In the next 14 seconds, the plane dropped from 2,900
to 2,400 feet. Then Preziose radioed: "I needed to deviate, I needed to deviate, I needed to deviate, I needed . . . "
That was his last message. From there the place took a
nose dive into the swamp.
The remains of the Cessna were found scattered randomly
over an area of about 200 yards. The instruments were so smashed they offered no useful information. The autopsy showed no
sign of alcohol or drugs.
The investigators found the red marks early in the investigation.
They were concentrated on the forward parts of the plane on the pilot's side, but also were found on the other side of the
plane. The marks also were found inside the nose landing gear wheel.
Also, the plane's engine was found broken into two main
pieces. Don Godwin, CEO for Mid-Atlantic Freight, said the split engine was "a big deal right there to me. I think most everybody
is convinced that that happened prior to impact."
Godwin is suggesting that something not only hit the Cessna,
but passed right through it. But what? A missile? Another aircraft? If so, why wasnt wreckage of the other flying object found
in the muck with Preziose's plane?
"I believe whatever hit it flew right through it and probably
ended up in the Gulf of Mexico someplace or somewhere in that bay," said Godwin.
All the National Transportation Safety Board can say about
the crash is that Preziose's Cessna 208B Caravan "collided in-flight with an unknown object."
Area pilots are projecting various theories, although
none of them are supported by the radar log or other known data. Was it hit by a drug runner's plane that also went down,
but its loss went unreported? What about a meteor, or space junk? Could it have been a military drone running amok? Could
it have been a terrorist missile aimed at the larger DC10 nearby?
That DC10, a FedEx plane, was carefully examined for damage,
and was found to be clean. It was not involved in a mid-air collision.
Military officials at Tyndall Air Force base, about 140
miles away, say they had no drones or other odd craft in the sky on the night of the accident. They insist that they had nothing
to do with the downing of Night Ship 282.
And what about the pilot's last words: "I needed to deviate."
It was as if he saw something coming at him, made an error, and that he knew he was going to die. The question remains
. . . what was it that Preziose was looking at?
"I don't see a scenario that fits everything yet," said