Final Report: Inadvertent flap retraction caused fatal stall

 - October 10, 2007, 11:26 AM

LEARJET 35A, GROTON, CONN., AUG. 4, 2003–The first officer’s inadvertent retraction of the flaps during low-altitude maneuvering caused Learjet N135PT to stall and crash into a house while attempting to land at the Groton/New London Airport, said the NTSB. Factors were the captain’s decision to perform a low-altitude maneuver using excessive bank angle, the flight crew’s inadequate coordination and low clouds surrounding the airport. The jet was destroyed and the two ATP pilots were killed. VMC prevailed, but the airplane was in and out of clouds during its low-altitude circling. An IFR flight plan had been filed for the Part 91 positioning flight, operated by Air East Management, from Republic Airport, Farmingdale, N.Y.

About five miles west of the airport, the flight crew advised the approach controller that they had the airport in sight and canceled IFR. About 1.5 miles from the runway, with the first officer at the controls, the airplane turned left, then back toward the right. The first officer said, “What happens if we break out, pray tell.” The captain replied, “Uh, I don’t see it on the left side. It’s gonna be a problem.”

When the airplane was about one-eighth of a mile south of the runway threshold, the captain took the controls. He made an approximate 60-degree heading change to the right back toward the runway. The airplane crossed over the runway at an altitude of 200 feet and began a left turn toward the center of the airport. During the turn, the first officer set the flaps to 20 degrees. The airplane re-entered a left downwind, about 1,100 feet south of the runway, at an altitude of 400 feet. As the airplane turned onto the base leg, the captain called for “flaps 20,” and the first officer replied, “Flaps 20 coming in.”

At about 200 feet agl on base, the airplane overshot the runway and entered a 90-degree bank before descending from view. The airplane hit the rooftop of a house about one-quarter of a mile northeast of the approach end of the runway, struck trees and more houses and came to rest in the Pequannock River.

The captain’s airspeed indicator reference bug was set to 144 knots, and the first officer’s was set to 124 knots. The flap selector switch was observed in the “up” position. The Airplane Flight Manual revealed that the stall speeds for flap positions of 0 and 8 degrees, and a bank angle of 60 degrees, were 164 and 148 knots, respectively.