MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (AP) — A small private plane that crashed in South Carolina last month, killing the pilot, had a key part installed upside down and backward after maintenance, according to a federal report.

James Harper, 60, died in the May 21 crash of his Piper PA-31 just after taking off from Myrtle Beach International Airport. He was a pilot with American Airlines, authorities said.

The small plane’s primary and secondary flight controls had been removed, painted and reinstalled two days before the crash, according to a preliminary accident report from the National Transportation Safety Board.

Investigators looking at the wreckage of the plane found the elevator trim tabs were installed upside down and backward. The tabs when installed properly help pilots maintain a steady climb or decent without a lot of force.

Harper radioed air traffic controllers almost immediately after taking off about 6:15 p.m. May 21 for a short flight to North Myrtle Beach and said he needed to return to the airport, according to the crash report.

When controllers asked if he needed any assistance, Harper responded “yes, we’re in trouble.” They did not hear from him again, according to the report.

The plane climbed and fell erratically during the two minutes it was in the air, the federal agency said.

The report did not say who did the maintenance on the plane. A more extensive examination will be released from the federal agency later.

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