Safety Board investigates Circuit City accident

 - January 31, 2007, 10:03 AM

The NTSB’s unusually lengthy preliminary report on the February 16 crash of a Circuit City Citation 560 on an ILS approach to Pueblo Memorial Airport (PUB), Pueblo, Colo., did not mention the minimum safe altitude warning (MSAW) the crew received moments before the crash or whether the jet was on an IFR flight plan (it was), although it did note that instrument conditions prevailed on the approach.

According to earlier indications from the NTSB, ATC radar activated an MSAW, which controllers then reported to Citation N500AT, before the jet, on approach for Runway 26R, crashed three to four miles short of the touchdown zone.

The NTSB has not confirmed whether the crew responded to the warning, but the portion of the transcript included in the preliminary report makes no acknowledgment of it. The transcript in the report ends with ATC clearing 500AT, then at 7,000 feet, to land.

The warning would have come after that, and an NTSB spokeswoman told AIN, “We’re still investigating the relevance of the warning.” The aircraft’s last ATC radar return, four miles out and about a minute before the crash, indicated an altitude of 4,900 feet. The crash site elevation was 4,600 feet, so the Citation would have been about 300 feet agl when the warning was given.

The Citation, owned and operated by Circuit City Stores, using Martinair’s aircraft management services, was destroyed by the crash and the resulting fire. All eight people on board–two pilots and six passengers–were killed. The pilots, Bruce Walton and Jeffrey Wightman, were Martinair employees. Four of the passengers were Circuit City employees and two were business associates. The wreckage was oriented on a magnetic heading of 230 degrees and the debris field was approximately 550 feet long. Indications were that the left wing hit the ground first.

The NTSB report said the Citation was en route with another company Citation from headquarters in Richmond, Va., to Orange County/John Wayne Airport (SNA) in Santa Ana, Calif. Strong headwinds had necessitated an earlier fuel stop in Columbia, Mo., and the two jets proceeded in trail, with about a 20-mile separation, to Pueblo for another refueling stop.

According to the Pueblo air traffic controller handling N500AT, a Bombardier CRJ200 was in a holding pattern near PUB to burn off fuel. Because the holding airplane and the accident airplane could see each other and there was potential for reduced separation, the controller vectored N500AT to the south briefly and then back to the north to provide adequate spacing.

The ASOS at PUB reported wind from 060 degrees at 8 knots, visibility 8 miles, skies broken at 900 feet and overcast at 1,400 feet, temperature -3 degrees C, dew point -5 degrees C, altimeter 30.16 inches Hg. The ceiling varied between 700 and 1,100 feet. A National Weather Service airmet, valid for the time and site of the accident, forecast occasional moderate rime and/or mixed icing in clouds and precipitation between the freezing level (the ground) and 22,000 feet. The National Weather Service had also reported freezing rain and fog in the area.

Icing Conditions Prevailed
The captain of the second Circuit City Citation said that his flight was in and out of the clouds on descent from 10,000 feet to PUB. The jet was picking up some rime ice, but the de-icing boots were effective in shedding the ice. After ATC had lost communication with the first Citation, the second was vectored to land on Runway 8L and touched down without incident.

The captain of the holding CRJ had requested a holding altitude of 8,000 feet over PUB. ATC told him of icing conditions at 8,000 feet, but he said he would try it. As the flight descended to 8,000 feet and into IMC, the icing light illuminated. He immediately requested and received 9,000 feet to get out of the icing. At 9,000 he was above the cloud layer and mostly in the clear. He characterized the icing as rime icing but couldn’t state the accumulation rate or its severity. Two pireps warned of icing in the area.

When N500AT, the accident airplane, was vectored to the south, radar data showed it was about 15 miles from PUB; it rejoined the localizer about 10 miles out. The radar track shows the accident airplane on a heading consistent with the inbound localizer heading of 257 degrees after rejoining the localizer.

The preliminary report included some of the ATC transcript of the communications between the local controller (LC) and the accident flight.

16:06:11, LC: Citation Zero Alpha Tango, affirmative Runway two six right for the ILS. Traffic holding over the airport is a regional jet at niner thousand. Report if you get him in sight.

16:06:20, N500AT: OK, I’ll be looking and uh looking for the ILS two six right.

16:08:06, LC: Citation Zero Alpha Tango, roger, that traffic is eleven moving twelve o’clock and niner miles turning northbound at niner thousand.

16:08:14, N500AT: OK, we’re out of ten now hurrying on down to seven and he must be IMC.

16:08:18, LC: Uh, negative, he’s just on top.

16:08:24, N500AT: OK, but we’re IMC now at ninety four hundred, Alpha Tango.

16:08:28, LC: Citation Zero Alpha Tango, turn left heading of one seven zero.

16:08:55, LC: Citation Zero Alpha Tango, turn right heading two niner zero intercept the localizer inbound. Traffic is five miles west of your position level at niner thousand. Maintain seven thousand until established cleared approach.

16:11:09, LC: Citation Zero Foxtrot, uh or correction uh Cita or correction Citation Zero Alpha Tango, you’re cleared approach just remain with me runway two six right cleared to land.

16:11:19, N500AT: OK, Five Alpha Tango, cleared to land with you at seven thousand intercepting the glideslope.