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07 April 2010

NTSB Report on the February 2010 Crash into IRS Building

Most of the investigation into February's apparently deliberate crash of a small aircraft into a building containing dozens of employees of the Internal Revenue Service isn't being treated as an aircraft accident by the NTSB, but rather investigated as a criminal act by the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation). This is often the case in the US when an aircraft incident appears to be part of some sort of deliberate criminal act or act of terror.

While the NTSB will be responsible for completing part of the overall investigation, they recently released a preliminary report on the aircraft-related portion of this event. While it has much of the basic information contained in the initial report, it does have some additional information.

NTSB Identification: CEN10FA124
Type of Flight: 14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Date: Thursday, February 18, 2010
Location: Austin, TX
Aircraft: Piper PA-28-236
Aircraft Registration: N2889D
Deaths: 2 (the pilot and one building occupant)
Injuries: About a dozen building occupants

Narrative: On February 18, 2010, approximately 0958 Central Standard Time, N2889D, a Piper PA-28-236 single-engine airplane, was destroyed after the pilot intentionally flew it into the side of an office building in Austin, Texas. The private pilot and an employee who worked in the building were killed. The airplane was registered to and operated by the pilot (Joeseph Stack). Visual meteorological conditions prevailed and no flight plan was filed for the personal flight conducted under 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91. The flight originated from the Georgetown Municipal Airport (GTU), Georgetown, Texas, at 0944 (GTU is about 20 miles north of the crash site).

Preliminary review of air traffic control communications and radar data revealed that after the pilot was cleared for take off from Georgetown Airport, he proceeded southbound and climbed to an altitude of 4,800 feet. During this time, a controller approved a radio frequency change and the pilot responded, "Eight niner delta thanks for your help have a great day." No further communications were made with the pilot. At 0954, the airplane was observed on radar descending out of 4,800 feet and making a turn toward the west. At 0957, the airplane was last observed on radar at an altitude of 1,000 feet on a southwesterly heading before the data ended.

The airplane collided with the office building between the first and second floors, and exploded on impact.

Aerial view of crash site

The airplane's engine, two (of three) propeller blades, and the right wing came to rest outside of the building. The empennage came to rest on the ledge of the building and was partially hanging over the edge.

The left wing, portions of the fuselage, and a propeller blade were found inside the building on the second floor. The flaps were found in the fully retracted position. The airplane was destroyed by the impact and the post-impact fire.

The weather at Austin Bergstrom International Airport (AUS), Austin Texas (about 15 miles SSE of the crash site), at 0953, was reported as calm wind, visibility 10 miles, few clouds at 25,000 feet, temperature 9 degrees Celsius, dew point 1 degree Celsius, and a barometric pressure setting of 30.24.

Additional Information
The story of this event is much more than just a simple plane crash. The pilot of the aircraft, Joseph Stack, had an ongoing and contentious relationship with the IRS revolving around tax issues with a series of his businesses. Prior to the crash, Stack and posted a long letter on his web site site that discussed some of these issues and that made violent threats against the US government. Shortly before his last flight, Stack also set fire to his house.

Among the unresolved issues is whether Stack had done anything to the aircraft, including adding extra fuel, to enhance the effect of the crash. It is unclear if the final NTSB report will address that issue. Also not yet resolved is if this event was the act of a lone individual or that of an organized group. However, initial speculation by various law enforcement agencies was that it was the act of a lone individual. If it is addressed at all, it will be addressed by the FBI or by some other government agency assisting in this investigation.

The airport used by Joseph Stack is a general aviation airport, and like most such airports there is no permanent security provided by TSA or any other federal agency. When the control tower is closed and the gates of the airport are closed, there is a system in place to allow anyone to gain access to the airport simply by driving through an automated gate. Security is mostly in the hands of airport users, who are encouraged to report unusual security situations.

Listen to ATC clearance for Joseph Stack (Source:

Austin, Texas office building before the crash

Austin, Texas office building after the crash

Fire rages at crash site

Photo Credits: Austin American-Statesmen, Google Earth


  1. Dude!

    I learned a new word from you today --- empennage. Thank you.

    Use of a grammar checker before posting would be a _good_ thing.

    It's clear that this event happened deliberately. So why do figure captions refer to it as an "accident"?

    Take care,


  2. There will be more of these incidents if radio and TV commentators continue to fan the flames of hatred.