1991 Hawker Crash: Back to the Future

 - February 6, 2007, 3:27 AM

On March 16, 1991, all 10 people aboard a Hawker, including seven members of singer Reba McEntire’s band as well as her tour manager, were killed when the jet slammed into a mountain after taking off from San Diego Brown Field. As in the October 24 Learjet 35A accident in nearly the same location, the crew elected to pick up its IFR clearances once airborne. This and other aspects of the two accidents are eerily similar. Compare this summary of the NTSB’s final report of the Hawker accident with the accompanying preliminary report of the Learjet 35A crash.

After flying members of an entertainment group to Lindbergh Field, the crew repositioned Hawker N831LC to nearby Brown Field. A planned late departure from San Diego would have occurred after a noise curfew went into effect at Lindbergh.

In the first of three calls to an FSS specialist before taking off from Brown Field, the pilot said he “did not have the instrument departure procedure” for the airport. The FSS specialist read the departure procedure to the pilot over the phone. In his last call to the FSS, the pilot said he planned to depart VFR toward the northeast and obtain his IFR clearance once airborne.

The Safety Board said that during this call the pilot “expressed concern” about remaining clear of the TCA and inquired about “staying below 3,000 feet.” The FSS specialist agreed with the pilot’s concerns. But after the accident, the specialist told the NTSB that he thought the pilot was “referring to 3,000 feet agl, rather than 3,000 feet msl.”

The pilot had filed to take off at midnight, but the twinjet didn’t get airborne until 1:41 a.m. Since the flight was more than 90 minutes late, the IFR flight plan had “clocked out.” As ATC was re-entering the flight into its computer, the aircraft hit upsloping terrain about eight miles northeast of the airfield. The aircraft impact point was at an elevation of 3,300 feet msl–about 250 feet below the top of the mountain.

The NTSB determined the probable cause(s) of this accident as follows: “Improper planning/decision by the pilot, the pilot’s failure to maintain proper altitude and clearance over mountainous terrain and the copilot’s failure to adequately monitor the progress of the flight.”