Factual Report: Overweight passengers may be factor in Beech 1900 accident

 - January 4, 2008, 9:25 AM

Beech 1900D, Charlotte, N.C., Jan. 8, 2003–At 8:09 a.m. EST the Air Midwest Beech 1900 (N233YV), flight 5481 (d.b.a. US Airways Express), crashed shortly after takeoff from Charlotte-Douglas International Airport (CLT), N.C., killing both crewmembers and all 19 passengers. The aircraft, which was destined for Greenville-Spartanburg (GSP), S.C., was destroyed on impact and in the post-crash fire.

The crew radioed a brief distress call immediately before the aircraft apparently stalled, plunged to the ground and hit the corner of a maintenance hangar on the airport. Immediately after the crash the NTSB began to focus on questions regarding maintenance on the horizontal stabilizer and elevator. Questions were also raised regarding a computed pre-takeoff weight that was only 100 pounds below the aircraft’s mtow. Particularly called into question is the possibility that the aircraft may have been loaded outside of its approved center of gravity envelope based on the overly optimistic FAA-approved average passenger weights.

According to the FAA, pilots are allowed to use an average adult passenger winter weight of 185 pounds, including carry-on items and clothing. The same passenger is calculated at five pounds lighter during summer travel. Children ages two to 12 are estimated to weigh 80 pounds in winter and summer, and each checked bag is calculated to weigh an average of 25 pounds for a domestic flight and 30 pounds for international travel. Critics contend the weights were instituted long ago and are unrealistic and far short of the average American’s weight today.

It was also determined that the elevator controls had been adjusted just two days before the accident, and one elevator control cable was set 1.8 inches longer than the other. Normally they would be the same lengths. Investigators believe the difference might not have been noticeable in normal flight conditions but could have hampered the crew’s ability to recover from an unusually high pitch angle.

Analysis of the flight data recorder showed the 37-second flight initially entered an appropriate climb, though the angle quickly became exceedingly steep until the twin turboprop reached a nose-up pitch of 52 degrees at about 1,200 feet agl, where it stalled and plummeted to the ground. The NTSB is continuing its investigation of the accident.