Connell was chief executive officer of New Media Communications, a company that created Web sites for several organizations, including George W. Bush's presidential campaigns. Because of Connell's ties, left-leaning bloggers and Web sites began speculating after the crash.
The NTSB said Thursday the airplane crashed because of Connell's "inappropriate control inputs as a result of spatial disorientation, which led to an aerodynamic stall and loss of control."
The day of the crash, Connell left College Park, Md., at about 3:30 p.m., which had him approaching Akron-Canton at dusk in poor weather. The combination increased the risk of spatial disorientation, which is a situation where pilots can't determine their position and altitude relative to the ground.
Contributing to the crash was Connell's decision to fly into known icing conditions, and ice accumulation that reduced the airplane's aerodynamic performance. Connell also failed to initially intercept and establish the airplane on the proper approach course, the NTSB determined.
Connell flew to Maryland on Dec. 18 for meetings in the Washington, D.C., area. According to published reports, he was returning to attend his company's Christmas party.
Before leaving, Connell checked weather conditions with the Raleigh Automated Flight Service Station, according to NTSB reports. He spent 20 minutes getting weather and icing information. Connell was told to expect precipitation and that freezing conditions were possible.
Connell contacted Akron-Canton's tower at 5:36 p.m. A few minutes later, the tower issued approach instructions, and Connell asked if other pilots had reported icing conditions. Connell was told there had been no reports.
At 5:51 p.m., Connell was cleared to land, but was told he was off-course. An air traffic controller told Connell two more times that he was off-course, and asked if he wanted to try a new approach. Connell said he would correct his approach, then asked to "do a 360 and re-establish ourselves." The controller denied the request and told Connell to climb and maintain an altitude of 3,000 feet.
Connell responded that he was "due north and climbing." The controller restated the order to climb, then asked if Connell heard the order. Connell declared an emergency, then radio contact ended.
Investigators ruled Connell's statement he was "due north and climbing" was a sign of spatial disorientation. The airplane actually was in a steep turn and went into a "spiral-like dive" as Connell declared an emergency, according to the NTSB report.
Because of his Republican Party ties and work with Bush's campaigns in 2000 and 2004, Connell's death spurred speculation. A story about the crash is featured in the February edition of Maxim magazine.
Speculation focuses on the 2004 election when Bush won because of a 118,000-vote victory in Ohio. Bloggers have speculated the vote count was manipulated by computer programs Connell's company designed. Connell gave a deposition in November 2008 for a lawsuit filed over the election.
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