Sabreliner hits ridge
ROCKWELL NA 265-65 SABRELINER, MOLOKAI, HAWAII, MAY 10, 2000–At 2031 Hawaiian standard time (HST), both flight crewmembers and all four passengers of the Sabreliner were killed in an off-airport crash that destroyed the aircraft when it flew into mountainous terrain 3.3 nm southwest of Molokai Airport (MKK), near Kaunakakai on the Island of Molokai, Hawaii, while on a night visual approach for landing. Sabreliner N241H, owned and operated under Part 91 by Price Aircraft of Broomfield, Colo., was not equipped with a terrain awareness and warning system.
Night VMC prevailed, and an IFR flight plan had been filed. The flight had departed from Tahiti in the mid-Pacific Ocean at an estimated departure time of 1300 HST and made an en route refueling stop at Christmas Island. It departed Christmas Island about 1600 HST for Maui, Hawaii. The crew cleared customs in Maui about 1930 and departed for Molokai at 2008 HST. The trip had originated at Jeffco Airport in Boulder, Colo., on April 23, 2000, with an extended stay at Esquel, Argentina. The original copilot was replaced by a new one for the next legs.
On May 9 the airplane had departed Argentina, with stops in San Carlos de Bariloche, Argentina; Chile; Easter Island; and Tortegegie for fuel and customs en route to Tahiti, which is in the same time zone as Hawaii. On May 10 the crew filed a Jeppesen dataplan indicting an estimated time of departure of 1200 HST from Tahiti and 3 hr 14 min en route to Christmas Island. Another dataplan indicated an estimated time of departure of 1600 HST from Christmas Island. Estimated time en route to Maui was 2 hr 55 min. The airplane landed in Maui about 1920 HST and cleared customs about 10 min later. The agents reported the crew was in good spirits, although one pilot mentioned that it had been a long day. The NTSB report said the cockpit voice recorder (CVR) indicated that the captain was flying the airplane and the copilot broadcast all radio transmissions.
While at Maui Airport, the crew filed their flight plan to Molokai with the Honolulu Automated Flight Service Station (AFSS). The copilot requested “eight thousand feet, three thousand feet, we’ll say three thousand feet.” This request did not include route of flight. Clearance delivery responded that preferred routing to Molokai would be “victor six blush, victor eight and minimum en route altitude is six thousand feet.” The copilot responded that they could accept that altitude and routing. Victor six is the 320-deg radial from the Maui (OGG) Vortac. Blush intersection was the point where victor eight (the 056-deg radial from the Molokai Vortac) intersected victor six. At 2002:26, the Maui controller told the crew of N241H, “cleared to Molokai as filed, maintain six thousand and fly heading three four zero, departure one two zero point two, squawk six zero zero five,” which the copilot correctly read back. The CVR transcript indicated that the crew began setting their instruments. The captain told the copilot he thought they would receive radar vectors and would not even get on the airway. The CVR transcript does not indicate that the crew briefed or reviewed the route of flight or approach.
At 2008:11 Maui Tower cleared the airplane for takeoff on Runway 02. About two minutes later the controller instructed the crew to contact departure control. Departure control established radar contact about 2010, and instructed the crew to join victor six. The captain asked the copilot to set “that number for me.” The copilot responded, “Three twenty.” The captain said “Join it, we’re past it.” The copilot agreed. The captain queried, “right then?” At 2010:37, the copilot asked departure control to verify that it was a left turn to intercept their assigned radial. Departure advised them to turn to 310 deg to join the “three twenty.” About one minute later, departure instructed them to contact Honolulu Center.
At 2013:17 Honolulu Center briefed the crew on the Molokai weather: wind 060 deg at eight knots; visibility 10 mi; sky clear; temperature 23 deg C; and dew point 18 deg. This brief also informed the crew to expect a visual approach to Molokai. The Sabreliner’s mode-C reported altitude was 6,000 ft.
During the next six minutes, the crew discussed bookkeeping issues and an instrument problem. The captain remarked, “It really didn’t grab it right?” Later the sound of tapping was heard followed by the comment “It’s doin’ it again.” The captain then said it was “holding it or it’s giving good directions, the autopilot just isn’t uh, capturing it.”
About 2020 the copilot noted they were about 10 mi out from Molokai. The captain replied they would be taken around to Runway 05 and they would probably pass over the airport before being let down. He also said he was not watching where they were going. At 2020:53, the copilot asked for and received clearance to descend to 5,000 ft, and remarked they would probably be let down once they were on the other side of the airport. The captain asked if they were past the airport. During several verbal exchanges trying to clarify their position, the copilot instructed the captain to stay on his heading.
At 2021:45 the airplane was at a mode-C reported altitude of 5,000 ft when Honolulu Center pointed the airport out at N241H’s 11 to 12 o’clock and three miles. The copilot responded they were looking, and he told the captain they were still going to the VOR. The captain agreed then asked “seven miles out, to what?” The copilot replied from the VOR and the airport was about three miles this side of it. The captain asked what they passed over. The copilot responded he was on “FMS and it switches… course guidance.”
About 2022:37 the copilot told the captain that they should be right over the airport. The copilot said they could ask for the approach, since there were still clouds below them. The crew decided to ask for an instrument approach. At 2023:23, the copilot reported the field was not in sight and requested the VOR Alpha approach.
The crew initiated the instrument approach. The copilot directed the captain to proceed outbound on the 254-deg radial. During the next minute, the copilot advised the captain that the desired course was a radial, not a heading. The captain asked the copilot if the tower was closed and if pilot-controlled lighting was available. He asked for the frequency and the copilot responded, “eighteen seven.” The copilot added that he still saw clouds below them and told the pilot to watch his radial. At 2024:19 the CVR indicates sounds similar to seven microphone clicks. Then the captain remarked, “Now there it is.”
As the flight continued on the instrument approach, the copilot briefed parts of the approach. About 2024:59 the captain informed the copilot to just direct him around because the briefing was confusing him. The airplane was now at a mode-C reported altitude of 4,600 ft. The copilot instructed the pilot to fly 300 deg for one minute for the procedure turn. The captain asked if they could go down to 2,500 ft, and the copilot responded affirmatively. The captain directed the copilot to set the flaps to 10 deg and the copilot complied. The captain asked for the inbound course, and the copilot responded it would be the opposite of 254 deg. When the captain asked if 300 deg was the right heading, the copilot said no, they were doing the procedure turn. The captain remarked he had to make a left turn and they were coming around. The copilot responded that they were turning back around to, “one nineteen, one twenty.” Then the captain said, “Oop, not too far. Coming the other way. There you go.”
The captain said they were out of 2,500 feet and asked for the field elevation from the copilot, who informed him it was 400 ft. The copilot said the radial was alive and they could descend to 2,200 ft inbound to the VOR. The captain requested some clicks to see where the runway was, and the CVR indicates two series of sounds similar to seven microphone clicks beginning at 2027:28. The airplane was at an altitude of 2,500 ft.
At 2027:33 Honolulu Center terminated radar service and approved a change to advisory frequency. The airplane was at a mode-C reported altitude of 2,400 ft. About 30 sec later, the CVR indicates another series of seven clicks. Then the copilot said, “Radial on your side there. Watch your radial.”
The captain said they were six miles from the runway. The copilot responded they were six miles from the VOR and then they could go down to 1,000 ft. The pilot said, “That’s another thousand feet.” The copilot said they were 10 mi from the airport, and reported that he selected flaps 20. He said the missed approach was a climbing left turn to a 360-deg heading. The captain said, “This wasn’t supposed to be difficult,” then chuckled. He still didn’t see the runway and asked the copilot to verify the frequency for the pilot-controlled lighting. The copilot advised him they did not have the proper frequency; he said they should be on 125.7.
About 2029:47 the CVR recorded seven sounds similar to microphone clicks. The airplane was now at a reported altitude of 2,200 ft. A few seconds later the copilot said he had the runway in sight and, “You have, you’re right here.” About 2030:12 the airplane was at a reported altitude of 2,100 ft. Safety Board software determined that this position was 1.3 nm on a magnetic bearing of 251 deg from the Vortac, and 5.3 nm and 232 deg from the airport. Then the CVR indicates a sound similar to a decrease in engine rpm. The captain said the landing gear was going down. Then he said the flaps were going to full down. He later added that the landing lights were out.
At 2030:51 the copilot reported to Honolulu Center that they had the airport in sight and canceled their IFR clearance. The airplane was at an altitude of 1,800 ft and 0.6 nm on a magnetic bearing of 175 deg from the Vortac, and 4.3 nm and 239 deg from the airport. About 10 seconds later the copilot broadcast to Molokai traffic that they were inbound to Runway 05. The captain said he was going down a little bit. At 2031:24 the airplane was at 1,300 ft and 1.2 nm on a magnetic bearing of 111 deg from the Vortac, and 3.3 nm and 232 deg from the airport. At this time the captain said, “Oop.” The copilot said, “That’s the clouds.” The captain queried, “Let’s have that again. That’s the clouds, huh? Oh.” Three seconds later the captain said, “Ooh, wadoyou…” and the CVR recording ended one second later. The airplane obliquely hit the side of a mountain ridge about 100 ft below the crest of a 1,400-ft ridge.
A security guard at the airport heard the crew report their intention to land, and then the runway lights illuminated. She saw two blinking lights on the hills west of the airport. She saw the white blinking light of an airplane left of the right light. She normally observes airplanes on the right side of this light and not far away. This airplane was still far away and appeared low over the mountains. She said it was a very clear night and she could see the outline of the mountains. The airplane turned toward her left. She thought this was to align with the runway, but this was farther away from the airport than normal. She stopped watching and went to open a gate. She was out of her vehicle when another person drove up and told her they saw the lights disappear and then saw a fireball. She said there were no clouds.
Security guards patrolled the ranch grounds on which the accident occurred. Several of them noted the airplane passed lower than normal over the ridgelines. They also said it was a clear night.
The captain was an airline transport pilot, with more than 12,775 hr TT and held type ratings in several jets, including the Sabreliner. He also held a flight instructor certificate, with ratings for single- and multi-engine land, and a current first-class medical certificate.
The copilot held a commercial pilot certificate, with ratings for airplane single- and multi-engine land and instrument land, and a type rating in the Sabreliner. He held a flight instructor certificate, as well as advanced and instrument ground instructor ratings, and his first-class medical certificate was current. His logbook indicated 1,725 hr TT, with 600 hr as PIC. The two pilots had flown together previously for a total of about 30 hr.
According to the filed flight plan, the accident flight was scheduled for about 15 min of flight time. This totaled about 6 hr 25 min of flight time in the 24-hr period before the accident. The crew also engaged in a transmeridian flight the day before the accident crossing seven time zones during a duty day that exceeded 14 hr.