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Feds: 2 skydivers joined the doomed flight at last minute

HONOLULU (AP) — The National Transportation Safety Board says two skydivers made a last-minute decision to board the plane that crashed and killed 11 people last month.

The NTSB’s preliminary report was released Tuesday. No cause for the crash was given, which is typical for preliminary reports.

“The occupants on the accident flight included the pilot, three tandem parachute instructors and their three customers, and two camera operators,” the NTSB report said. “Two solo jumpers decided to join the accident flight at the last minute.”

The report also said a witness to the crash reported the plane’s engines sounded normal before takeoff, but shortly after it left the ground the aircraft became inverted and crashed nose down. There were no survivors.

“He could hear the engines during the initial ground roll and stated that the sound was normal, consistent with the engines operating at high power,” the report said. “He could see its belly, with the top of the cabin facing the ocean to the north. The airplane then struck the ground in a nose-down attitude, and a fireball erupted.”

The witness, who is a parachute instructor for the company that was operating the plane, was not named.

The final seconds of the flight were captured by airport surveillance video. An NTSB spokesman said the footage couldn’t be released at this time.

The doomed flight was the fourth of five scheduled skydiving trips for that day. No flight plans were filed, the NTSB said.

It was the deadliest civil aviation accident in the U.S. since a 2011 crash at an air show in Nevada killed 10 people.

The NTSB report said the plane was being operated by Oahu Parachute Center and was owned by N80896 LLC.

The president of that California company, William Garcia, confirmed to The Associated Press that he was the registered owner of the aircraft. His company also owned the airplane when it was in another skydiving accident in California in 2016.

In the immediate aftermath of that crash, the NTSB called on the Federal Aviation Administration to tighten its regulations governing parachute operations.

The NTSB recommended to the FAA more than a decade ago that it strengthen its rules on pilot training, aircraft maintenance and inspection, board member Jennifer Homendy told a news conference in Honolulu.

The FAA hasn’t acted on those recommendations, she said.