GATES LEARJET 25B, PITTSBURGH, PA., NOV. 22, 2001–At 1:05 p.m. EDT Learjet N5UJ, operated by Universal Jet Aviation of Boca Raton, Fla., was destroyed when it veered off Runway 28L (11,500 by 200 feet) during an attempted takeoff at Pittsburgh International Airport. Both crew-members were killed. They were the only occupants aboard the Part 91 repositioning flight to Boca Raton. The aircraft was in VMC on an IFR flight plan.
The ATP-rated captain, 41, held ratings for airplane single-engine land, multi-engine land and instrument airplane. He also held a flight instructor certificate with ratings for airplane single-engine land, multi-engine land and ground instructor. His most recent first-class medical certificate was issued June 4, 2001. He had 5,952 hours of flight experience, 3,030 of which were in Learjets. His most recent biennial flight review was completed Sept. 6, 2001. According to a witness, the “older pilot” was in the left seat.
The first officer, 34, held a commercial pilot certificate with ratings for airplane single-engine land, multi-engine land and instrument airplane. He also held a flight instructor certificate with ratings for airplane single-engine land and instrument airplane. His most recent second-class medical certificate was issued Jan. 24, 2000. He had 1,240 hours of flight experience, 300 of which were in Learjets. His most recent biennial flight review was completed Oct. 6, 2000.
The witness, an employee of the airport’s sole FBO, described the accident to the NTSB: “I love to watch the old Learjets get up and go. I always make a point of going out to watch them take off. For an empty Learjet, he was using a lot more runway than usual. The nose came up, and he was in an extreme nose-up attitude. I mean it was extreme. He was riding the tail and he did it for a long time. The nose was pitched up almost 45 degrees, even more.
“From the beginning of the takeoff roll, it just didn’t seem to be going fast enough to take off. I don’t know if it was because he was stalling the wing, because the nose was high. Very high. It was like he was doing a short-field takeoff. Yoke back, and then as you lift off, you push the nose over, but he never pushed the nose over.
It was like he was stalling the wing, and the only thing keeping the nose up was the ground effect.
“When he veered off the runway, the nose was up the whole time. The airplane never rolled off on a wing. The wings never wobbled, and the nose never came down. I didn’t realize he was off the side of the runway until all the dust and dirt started flying. I mean it was a lot.”
When asked about the engine noise, the witness stated, “It sounded like a regular old Learjet. I didn’t hear anything weird, and there were no pops. It didn’t seem right, or quite loud enough at first, but when he got the nose up, it was loud. The engines were loud, they were really loud. Like they were really trying to get it off the ground. It was like a shriek. When he went off the side of the runway, it was extremely loud, and the engine noise was continuous until impact.”
The witness also stated that he had briefly spoken to both pilots when they paid for the fuel. He asked who would be flying the next leg and the “younger pilot” said that he would be flying it. When the witness noted that the airplane was not carrying passengers, he asked the captain, “Would you be able to pull a high-performance takeoff?” According to the witness, the captain responded, “I don’t know.”
ATC tapes revealed there were no radio transmissions from the airplane to report any problems or emergencies. ATC personnel described the radio conversations as “routine.” Interviews with FBO employees and a review of fuel records revealed that the airplane was serviced with 676 gallons of jet-A, which completely filled the tanks. Immediately after the accident, the fuel truck was removed from service. A sample of fuel was drawn from the truck and tested. Specific gravity and clarity and brightness tests were within the acceptable ranges.
The weather recorded at Pittsburgh International Airport at 1310 included clear skies with 10 miles visibility; winds 190 degrees at seven knots; temperature 54 degrees F, dew point 21 degrees F; altimeter 30.04 inches.
According to the Allegheny County coroner, both succumbed to smoke inhalation and carbon monoxide poisoning. Both pilots were found in the cabin area near the cabin door. The captain was found next to the cabin door and the first officer on the right side of the cabin, slightly forward of the captain. An FAA investigator subsequently sat in the left cockpit seat, and attempted an emergency egress. He reported that during the egress from the cockpit to the cabin door, he had to take three breaths of air. There was no evidence of smoke hoods in the airplane, nor were they required.