Learjet crashes on foggy takeoff

 - November 26, 2007, 11:54 AM

LEARJET 25, ITHACA, N.Y., AUG. 24, 2001–Investigators are delving into the circumstances that caused a Learjet to crash into a fence on takeoff from the Tompkins County Airport in Ithaca. The flight lasted only seconds and the business jet came to rest less than half a mile from the departure end of Runway 32. Both of the ATP-rated pilots perished.

Originating in the predawn hours from Newark, N.J., the jet arrived at Ithaca at 0430 for fuel and cargo. One pilot filed an IFR flight plan and shortly before 0600 the crew departed for Jackson, Mich. A certified meteorologist reported the weather at 0550 as 100 ft overcast and half a mile visibility in fog. The wind was calm and the temperature and dew point were matched at 17 deg C.

One witness heard the jet’s engines spool up while he was walking across a ramp area south of the runway. He could see only the strobe lights through the fog but was able to see the rotation near the midpoint of the 6,600-ft runway. He estimated he lost sight of the jet about 150 ft in the air in a steep climb. Seconds later the witness heard a loud “bang” and felt what must have been the concussion as the jet hit the ground.

Investigators found the wreckage almost half a mile from the end of the runway. The perimeter fence stood about 1,000 ft off the end of the runway, and the jet took out at least a 60-ft section. It also sheared four vertical poles from the ground with the outside poles, causing damage between two and five feet above the ground. Investigators did not find any ground scars or wreckage between the runway’s end and the fence. A path of burned grass about a foot wide, began at the base of the fence and continued for another 30 ft.

Ground scars emerged some 25 ft beyond the fence on the shoulder of a county road that crossed the jet’s trajectory. Blue paint transferred onto the fence and the road; fuel and aircraft parts were found on the road as well. The debris path continued for another 900 ft, intersecting a second road.

Investigators found the left main landing gear in the retracted position and the actuator in the extended position. The right main landing gear and actuator were retracted. In the cockpit, they found the landing gear and flap selectors in the retracted positions. Investigators discovered the right elevator deflected upward about 45 deg and the left side upward about 20 deg. The rudder sat out to the right about 35 deg.

Due to the Learjet’s cargo configuration, investigators were under the initial impression there was no CVR and didn’t search for it. To the contrary, maintenance records revealed work done on the unit last December. The investigator in charge dispatched a new search team early last month that found the recorder.
The aircraft was operated by Ameristar Jet Charter of Addison, Texas. Further examination of the aircraft’s engines and systems is under way.