ANDERSON — For the children of Spencer Jackson, the 2019 plane crash that eventually claimed his life was preventable.
Jackson, 69, was involved in a plane crash at Anderson Municipal Airport on May 5, 2019. He died in April.
The events surrounding the crash still leave his son, Evan Jackson, and daughter, Sadie Durbin, with lots of unanswered questions.
The report issued by the National Transportation Safety Board determined a fuel value was installed improperly and caused the left engine to lose power.
A test conducted on the engine with the fuel valve installed properly found the engine produced the rated horsepower.
“It was a preventable crash,” Evan Jackson said during an interview with The Herald Bulletin. “In most aircraft accidents there is a mention of pilot error. Nothing in the report that says anything about pilot error.
“It was strictly a mechanical issue,” he said. “In my heart I knew it wasn’t pilot error.”
At the time of the crash Tom Wood Motorsports was conducting motorcycle safety training in front of the hangars on the north side of the airport.
“Watching the video it seemed like he tried to avoid the motorcyclists and was trying not to hit fuel tanks or the building,” Durbin said. “He would have taken his own life rather than hit those boys.”
For close to two years, Jackson and Durbin dealt with the emotional and financial issues surrounding the crash.
Jackson said his dad, a pilot with 41 years experience, was flying the plane for owner Sam Pierce.
He said the previous flight was from Springfield, Illinois, and the engine ran properly on takeoff.
“Evidently someone had worked on the airplane and the fuel valve was installed incorrectly,” Jackson said. “To our knowledge, there is no maintenance record showing it should have been touched since the plane was new.”
Jackson said his father was flying to Huntington on May 5 on a “ferry permit” to have the plane inspected.
“We don’t know why the inspection didn’t take place in Anderson or why they didn’t pay the mechanic to come to Anderson,” he said.
The plane had been grounded by the Federal Aviation Administration because it was out of the annual inspection, according to the NTSB report. The last annual inspection was done in July 2017.
Jackson said he was in South Bend and received a telephone call from Sam Pierce that morning.
“I was told the plane ran off the runway and Dad suffered some broken bones,” he said.
“He was going to be OK.”
Jackson said a second call informed him his father was transported to St. Vincent Hospital in Indianapolis.
A telephone call from the hospital indicated the injuries were worse.
“It was downplayed at first,” Durbin said. “I was told the plane slid off the runway. I just prayed and drove.”
Spencer Jackson was on a ventilator for four weeks after the crash and stayed in the hospital for four months.
“We tried to tell his story,” Durbin said, through social media posts.
“We didn’t know how bad it was until a doctor told us our dad was perpetually injured and was fighting for his life,” Jackson said.
Durbin said her father suffered for two years.
“It wasn’t even close to what we expected,” she said of the doctor’s belief of his recovery.
“We were ready to make the decision to withdraw care, but the doctors told us he moved his toes and gave them a thumbs up,” she said.
“It has been devastating,” Durbin said. “He was so strong. I remember my dad before the plane crash, and after the plane crash he wasn’t the same guy.”
Fighting back tears, Durbin said her dad was always a strong, hard-working man who would do anything for his children.
“He loved his grandkids with all his heart,” she said. “I miss him a lot. I feel as though the last few years nobody should go what he went through.”
Durbin said the family thought Spencer Jackson could eventually sit in a golf cart and watch golf, watch his grandkids grow up and maybe walk with a walker.
Evan Jackson said the family has received no financial help and the $1 million in liability insurance on the aircraft was never paid because it wasn’t inspected by a mechanic before the planned flight to Huntington.
Durbin said her father farmed and that he would rather die than sell the farm.
It was costing the family $10,000 per month for his care in a nursing home.
“It was down to either having to borrow money, sell the farm or take a loan against the property,” Jackson said. “We sold things that had sentimental value, motorcycles and trucks we hoped to pass unto grandkids.”
Jackson said he doesn’t drive on Indiana 32 past the Anderson airport.
“It’s tough,” he said. “Nothing has gotten better. It’s tough for us to see it as much as we loved aviation.”
Editor's note: The original version of this article inaccurately characterized the performance of the airplane's engine. The story has been corrected.