The family of flight attendant Kristi Dunn, killed in the Nov. 22, 2004, crash of a Gulf-stream III en route to pick up former president George H.W. Bush, filed a wrongful-death suit last month against (among others) Dallas charter operator Business Jet Services and the estates of the two pilots killed in the accident. The family is seeking a “multimillion-dollar award” for actual and punitive damages.
This accident was one of several fatal crashes involving business jets, including the Challenger 601 in Montrose, Colo., that occurred in the course of less than one month near the end of 2004.
Minutes after the Gulfstream was cleared for the ILS approach to Runway 4 at Houston Hobby Airport, its wing clipped a light tower about five feet from the top. The pole was 3.25 miles from the end of Runway 4 and about 150 feet above the ground.
The lawsuit accuses the pilots of being “grossly negligent” and making “numerous basic errors,” including failing to maintain situational awareness, not using checklists and not taking corrective action “even after recognizing they were not using the correct navigation radios.”
According to cockpit voice recorder (CVR) transcripts, it appears that the pilots initially had a VOR–not the ILS frequency–tuned in. About two minutes before the airplane hit the tower, the pilot (who was the chief pilot for Business Jet Services) said, “I can’t get [unintelligible] approach mode on this thing.” The copilot responded, “I can’t get an approach mode on mine either.”
After lowering the landing gear, the copilot said, “What the [expletive] is wrong with this?” The pilot responded, “I don’t know.” The copilot asked, “What, do we have [it] set wrong?” followed by, “We’re high on the glideslope now.” After an altitude alerter sounded, the pilot said, “[Unintelligible] just gonna have to do it this way.” The copilot replied, “Guess so. Yeah, you’re on glideslope now.”
Less than a minute before the aircraft hit the tower, the crew discussed continuing the descent down to the 244-foot msl decision height. After another altitude alerter sound, the pilot said, “Oh my, what’d you do to me? Whoa [expletive], what happened? Did you change my frequency?” The copilot replied, “We had the, the VOR freq, the VOR frequency was on.”
The crew did not break off the approach. “We’re all squared away now,” noted the copilot, presumably after he reset the frequencies. “Yeah, but I, I don’t know if I can get back on it in time,” the pilot said. “Yeah, you will. You’re squared away now,” the copilot repeated. Then at the same time the tower called the aircraft, the copilot said, “up, up, up, up, up, up, up.”
The last words on the CVR are that of the tower completing its call, “Check your altitude. Altitude indicates four hundred feet.” Less than a second later the aircraft hit the tower.
The NTSB is still investigating, so it has not yet issued a probable cause for the accident. Business Jet Services did not return a call seeking comment.