Charter Aircraft Crashes On Circling Approach

 - May 7, 2008, 6:16 AM

Swearingen SA-227-AT, Beaver Island, Mich., February 8, 2001–Two people were killed, two seriously injured and two sustained minor injuries when the SA-227 (N318DH) crashed into trees while circling to land during a night, nonprecision instrument approach at Beaver Island Airport (SJX). The airplane was on a Part 135 charter flight operated by Air Taxi & Commuter Northern Illinois Flight Center.

The circling approach was made primarily over unlit land and water. No pre-crash anomalies were found with respect to the airframe, engines or systems. The aircraft struck the ground 1.74 nm southwest of SJX.

According to FAA records, a weather briefing was obtained and IMC was present along the route of flight at the time of the briefing. The crew obtained weather reports for the two stations closest to the destination in flight before executing the approach. They listed ceilings and visibilities as 400 to 500 ft overcast and five to seven statute miles, respectively. The airport elevation is 669 ft and the minimum descent altitude for the approach was listed as 1,240 ft.

There was no weather reporting station at the destination airport at the time of the accident. According to the company’s general operations manual, the pilot was responsible for the dispatch of the airplane, including flight planning and ensuring departure, en route, arrival and terminal operations compliance. The manual also states, “For airports without weather reporting, the area forecast and reports from airports in the vicinity must indicate that the weather conditions will be VFR at the ETA so as to allow the aircraft to terminate the IFR operations and land under VFR. Furthermore, for Part 135 instrument flight operations the FARs require weather observations at that airport.”

The commercial pilot in the left seat held a type rating for the accident airplane, but the right-seat commercial pilot did not hold an appropriate type rating for the accident airplane even though he was an employee of the company. The pitch-trim selector switch was found set to the copilot side.

The NTSB determined the cause of the accident to be the flight crew’s failure to maintain altitude/clearance during the circling instrument approach. Additional factors were that the pilot-in-command initiated the flight without proper weather reporting facilities at the destination; the flight crew did not fly to an alternate destination as required; the flight crew did not follow company and FAA procedures; the lack of certification of the second pilot; and the dark night and low ceiling.