Editors' Choice: Gulfstream III crew in Aspen crash

 - May 28, 2008, 7:06 AM

Weather, fuel and a curfew were clearly on the minds of pilot Robert Frisbie and copilot Peter Kowalczyk when they took off in a Gulfstream III from LAX for Aspen, Colo., in the late afternoon of March 29. Less than two hours later, the pilots, flight attendant and all 15 passengers were killed when the jet descended into terrain less than half a mile from the airport.

The pilots were aware before takeoff that the weather at Aspen was marginal. They were concerned that if they didn’t land on the first approach, they would have to divert because of their fuel situation. The crew also knew they were closing in on a Stage 2 night curfew, effective at 6:58 p.m. The airplane crashed at 7:02 p.m.

At 6:37 p.m. the pilot remarked to the copilot, “We’re not going to have a bunch of extra gas so we only get to shoot it once and then we’re going to Rifle,” according to the CVR.

After ATC told the Gulfstream crew that a Challenger just made a missed approach, the CVR picked up an expletive from the pilot. The flight attendant asked, “Are you scared?”

Pilot: “Well, I hope we make it. Somebody just missed.”

Attendant: “I don’t want to hear that. Why did you tell me? Why didn’t you say, No I’m not scared?’”

Pilot: “Well, I’m not scared. We only get to do it once because it’s too late in the evening then to come around and not enough fuel.” At 6:53 p.m. ATC reported that another aircraft went missed.

On final, a few seconds after 7 p.m., the pilot asked Aspen, “Are the lights all the way up?” A controller responded, “They are on high.” The pilot reported the runway in sight at 7:01 p.m. The CVR ends with the final seconds of the fatal flight:

GPWS: “Sink rate.”

Copilot: “Plus 10.”

GPWS: “Two hundred.”

GPWS: “Bank angle.”

Sound of grunt

About 30 seconds before it crashed, the Gulfstream became visible to Aspen tower controllers through snow showers about a mile north of the runway and about 250 ft agl. The jet was in a 45-deg left bank, according to a controller. Seeing the airplane roll rapidly to the left, the controller burst out, “Oh my God, he’s going to crash.” At 7:02 p.m. N303GA hit terrain about 100 ft above the airport elevation and some 2,178 ft west of Runway 15.

Frisbie had logged 9,900 TT, with 1,475 of them in the GIII. Kowalczyk had logged 5,500 hr TT, with 913 in the GII and GIII.