Unfortunate meeting

 - May 9, 2008, 7:21 AM

LEARJET 55 AND EXTRA 300, BOCA RATON, FLA., JUNE 23, 2000–“The failure of the pilots of both airplanes to maintain a visual lookout (while climbing and maneuvering) resulting in [an] in-flight collision and subsequent collision with residences and terrain” was the probable cause determined by the NTSB. The midair occurred in VFR weather, with a reported ceiling of 25,000 ft and 10 mi visibility. All four occupants aboard the two aircraft were killed in the accident.

The Learjet departed Boca Raton (BCT) under VFR at 1140 to reposition to Fort Pierce for touch-up painting. Onboard were three company employees: two seasoned pilots and one up-and-coming pilot along for the ride. A 30-year veteran aerobatic pilot was flying the Extra home after a morning of giving instruction in Pompano (PMP). The Extra pilot had retired a year before the accident to pursue his competitive aerobatic goals full time. Both aircraft were minutes away from their home airports.

Radar data showed the Learjet 55, N220JC, owned and operated by Universal Jet Aviation, departed BCT at 1140:53. Extra N300XS appeared on radar data at 1138:25, not far from PMP at 1,000 ft heading 045 deg. N220JC made a right crosswind departure from BCT, passing through 700 ft at 1141:02. Fourteen seconds later the Lear was heading 269 deg at a groundspeed of 191 kt. The last radar return for both aircraft was at 1141:30. At that moment N300XS was in a right turn at approximately 2,400 ft, N220JC was in a climbing left turn through 2,300 ft.    

BCT anticipated having a control tower by last fall. The contractor’s bankruptcy and a dispute between the airport and federal agencies delayed the tower’s completion. The tower finally opened last October. While the presence of an air traffic controller does not provide unmitigated safety, it does provide an extra pair of eyes; the accident occurred in the confines of the current class D airspace.