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Suicide ruled in plane crash

The pilot who died in a crash near Shannon Airport one year ago had been diagnosed with severe depression seven weeks earlier, according to the final report from the National Transportation Safety Board.

Edwin G. Hassel, 22, was living in Spotsylvania County and engaged at the time of his death.

The investigation concluded that Hassel intentionally crashed the Cessna 172M he had rented the evening of July 22, 2013.

An autopsy performed by the Chief Medical Examiner’s Office in Richmond listed the cause of death as blunt force trauma and the manner of death as suicide, the NTSB report states.

Before the crash, Hassel had been diagnosed with “severe recurrent major depression.” He was prescribed an antidepressant and urged to seek counseling, according to the report.

Toxicology tests conducted by the Federal Aviation Administration’s Bioaeronautical Sciences Research Laboratory in Oklahoma City detected an antidepressant in his system. It also detected ethanol, which is the active agent in alcoholic beverages, according to information from the Mayo Clinic medical laboratory.

The ethanol level detected was below Virginia’s legal limit for impairment.

“The investigation was unable to determine if pre-flight ethanol ingestion played a role in pilot’s decision-making,” the report states.

Hassel went online at 5:54 p.m. that July evening to reserve the Cessna for a flight, the report stated. He showed up at the airport on Tidewater Trail afterward and got the keys after speaking to a flight instructor who said he “seemed to be in good spirits and was not otherwise behaving abnormally.”

However, Hassel’s fiancée contacted authorities about the same time to say she believed he planned to commit suicide “based on her previous interactions with him and a note she discovered in her home,” the report states.

She arrived at the airport as he was walking to the plane. Deputies soon arrived along with the flight instructor and they witnessed the crash.

Hassel performed a low pass down the runway, then started erratic maneuvers near the airport, then climbed to an estimated altitude of 3,000 feet before placing the plane in a “near-vertical attitude,” the report states.

The plane’s engine sounded like it was at full power prior to impact with the ground about 200 feet northwest of the runway.

The plane burst into flames on impact but fire and rescue personnel were quickly on scene.

Hassel had accumulated about 165 hours of flight experience as of May 2013.

The plane was operated by JLS Aviation Flight School and was not found to have any mechanical problems.

“Although the wreckage was significantly fragmented and fire-damaged, no evidence of any preimpact mechanical malfunctions or failures of the airframe or engine that would have precluded normal operation were observed,” the report states.

Pamela Gould: 540/735-1972

pgould@freelancestar.com

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