Bizav suffers a steep spike in fatal accidents

 - November 2, 2006, 9:26 AM

The 30 days between late October and late November last year was the worst period ever for serious turbine corporate airplane accidents in the U.S. During that approximately one-month period, 23 people–14 crewmembers and nine passengers–were killed in five separate accidents.

With the exception of the eight passengers and two pilots killed in the Part 91 Hendrick Motorsports King Air 200 accident on October 24, the other 13 fatalities– 12 crewmembers and one passenger–occurred in business jets:

• October 24, EMS Learjet 35, San Diego; two pilots and three medical specialists killed.

• November 30–Hansa Jet, St. Louis; two pilots killed.

• November 28–Challenger 601, Montrose, Colo.; two crewmembers and one passenger killed.

• November 22, Gulfstream III, Houston; three crewmembers killed.

In addition to those deadly accidents, two Gulfstreams and a Falcon 20 were seriously damaged in separate runway excursion accidents during this period and two Flight Options Legacy business jets suffered substantial damage when one of the twinjets taxied into the other at Cleveland Hopkins Airport on November 29.

The Hendrick Motorsports King Air 200 and the EMS Learjet 35A accidents were the subject of news stories in the December AIN. At press time, here’s what AIN has learned (from the NTSB and other official sources) about the others.

Another Grand Aire Fatal

Tahir Cheema, 50, founder, owner and president of Toledo, Ohio-based charter firm Grand Aire Express, and copilot Eko Pinardi, 40, were killed November 30 when the HFB Hansa Jet they were flying crashed into an island in the Missouri River seconds after taking off from Spirit of St. Louis Airport, Chesterfield, Mo. Light snow and gusty winds were reported at the time of the accident, about 9 p.m. Witnesses said he aborted his first takeoff attempt. Cheema reportedly had been trying to sell the 1969 twinjet (N604GA), which had not flown at all since it arrived at the airport on March 23.

Grand Aire aircraft have been involved in some 10 reportable accidents since the company was founded in 1985, with the first fatal crash, involving an Aerostar, occurring in July 2002. The NTSB is still investigating one of two accidents that occurred on the same day–April 8, 2003– involving Grand Aire Falcon 20s. In one of the accidents, all three people aboard were killed when their aircraft crashed while practicing ILS approaches in icing conditions. In the other accident, two Grand Aire pilots were injured when their Falcon 20 crashed in a river after both engines flamed out on approach.

GIII Clipped Pole3.25 Miles from Runway

The Gulfstream III that crashed November 28 while on an ILS approach to Runway 4 at Houston Hobby Airport was on a positioning flight from Dallas Love Field to pick up former President George H. W. Bush and others traveling with him for a flight to Ecuador.

All three crewmembers (pilot Milford Dickson, 67; copilot Michael DeSalvo, 62; and flight attendant Kristi Dunn, 54) were killed when the Gulfstream crashed at about 6:15 a.m. in a field near the Sam Houston Tollway. During the approach, according to the NTSB, the Gulfstream’s wing clipped a 156-foot-high light pole a few feet from the top. The pole was 3.25 miles from the end of Runway 4 and aircraft are normally about 1,000 feet agl on approach at this point. The remains of a severed wing came to rest at the base of the pole.

About two minutes before the crash, ATC asked the crew to check their altitude after noting that the aircraft was at about 400 feet agl. The ILS for Runway 4 was operating properly at the time of the crash, according to the NTSB.

Weather conditions at the time of the accident were: wind calm, one-eighth mile visibility in fog, broken cloud layers at 100 feet agl and 600 feet agl, overcast layer at 5,500 feet agl and temperature and dew point 22 and 21 degrees C, respectively. Surface visibility was about one-third to half a mile. The tower reported an RVR of 1,600 feet.

N85VT (S/N 449) was registered to Jet Place, Tulsa, Okla., dba Business Jet Services in Dallas.

Each pilot had about 19,000 hours of flight time, said investigators. The aircraft’s CVR and FDR were recovered and have been sent to the NTSB in Washington, D.C. for analysis.

NTSB: Challenger Crew Declined De-icing

Less than a week after the GIII crash in Houston, there was another high-profile chartered corporate jet fatal accident on November 28, this one involving a Challenger 601. The crew of N873G (S/N 3009) elected to take off on 7,500-foot Runway 31 at Montrose Regional Airport, Colo., and, according to the NTSB, declined to have the aircraft de-iced. At press time, the Safety Board had not yet determined whether the airplane needed de-icing.

According to the NTSB, weather at the time of the accident, 9:55 a.m. local, was visibility one to one-quarter mile in light snow, a few clouds at 500 feet agl, overcast at 900 feet agl and temperature and dew point 1 and 2 degrees C, respectively. Wind was from 350 degrees at six knots.

At the departure end of Runway 31 the Challenger performed a static run-up of approximately one minute, a witness said. The initial ground roll appeared to be uneventful and then the witness lost sight of the airplane due to the snow and low visibility. One witness saw the airplane yaw to the right, putting the tail of the airplane perpendicular to the runway. Several other witnesses, located toward the departure end of the runway, reported hearing a loud “boom” or “whooshing.”

The airplane hit terrain to the right of the runway and slid approximately 1,400 feet, through the airport perimeter fence, across a road and through an adjacent fence, and came to rest within 200 feet of a dairy farm.

The engines were at full power at the time of the crash, and investigators found “skipping marks” on the runway, indicating that the jet might have become airborne for a few moments before the crash.

Killed in the crash were the pilot (Luis Espaillat), flight attendant (Warren Richardson) and a passenger who was the teenage son of NBC Sports chairman Dick Ebersol. Ebersol, an older son of Ebersol and the copilot (Eric Wicksell) were injured. The NTSB retrieved the cockpit voice recorder, which suffered fire damage.

The aircraft had flown to Montrose from Van Nuys, Calif., to drop off Ebersol’s wife (actress Susan Saint James). The airplane was registered to Hop-A-Jet of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and was being operated by Air Castle/Jet Alliance of Millville, N.J.

In a TV interview broadcast on NBC’s Today show a few days after the accident, Saint James said her older son told her that he believes the airplane lifted briefly during takeoff, then tipped back and forth before crashing and burning.

Part of the NTSB’s investigation is directed at studying the fatal accident in freezing weather of a Challenger 604 at Birmingham International Airport, England, on Jan. 4, 2002. The recently released UK AAIB final report concludes that frost on the wings caused the jet to go out of control and crash during takeoff. The report cites the crew for failing to de-ice the aircraft, among other factors. Said the NTSB: “For many years we have been dealing with the fact” that aircraft such as the Challenger with so-called “hard wings”–that is, those without leading-edge devices–“have been found to be more susceptible to the effects of icing.”

There are indications that one or more of the passengers were not wearing seatbelts, according to Montrose, Colo. coroner Mark Young.

All the accidents and incidents mentioned are still under investigation, with the exception of the April 8, 2003, fatal crash of the Grand Aire Falcon 20.