NTSB accident investigators are searching for clues as to what caused the crash of a Hawker Beechcraft Hawker 800 in Minnesota on July 31, killing both pilots and all six passengers aboard. The aircraft, N818MV, operated by Allentown, Pa.-based East Coast Jets as a Part 135 non-scheduled domestic passenger flight, departed from Atlantic City, N.J., and is thought to have been attempting a go-around at Owatonna Degner Regional Airport in southern Minnesota when it struck the airport’s localizer antenna.
NTSB board member Steven Chealander said the aircraft landed on the 5,500-foot Runway 30, and a witness heard the engines spool up again. “We have witness accounts that it did touch down and [the pilot] was trying to land and during the landing rollout for some reason they made a decision to try to take off and get airborne again,” said Chealander. The chartered jet rolled past the end of the runway, and according to the NTSB, indications are that the tire marks in the grass had stopped before the point where the airplane hit the eight-foot-high antenna with its right wing. The twinjet cartwheeled and came to rest in a cornfield, leaving a half-mile-long debris trail. The majority of the fuselage disintegrated, leaving only the tail section relatively intact.
According to Chealander, it’s unclear why the pilots attempted to get back into the air, and the investigators are hoping the cockpit voice recorder, flight management computer and EGPWS– recovered in what was described as good condition–can shed light on the final moments of the flight. The voice recorder was sent to the NTSB lab in Washington, while the ground proximity unit was examined by manufacturer Honeywell to determine whether the unit retained any trace memory after the crash.
While visual conditions prevailed at the time of the accident, weather is one of the factors being considered as the pilots deviated around a thunderstorm that moved through the area just an hour before, bringing 72-mph wind gusts and driving rain. Despite the detour, the flight was still on target for a scheduled 9:40 a.m. landing when the accident occurred. Published reports say the pilots were warned that storm cells were only five miles away from the airport and a severe thunderstorm warning was still in effect over the Rochester area 40 miles to the east.
Since Owatonna’s airport does not have a control tower, the investigation team–which includes officials from the FAA and the FBI–is examining transcripts of the pilots’ communications with the tower at Rochester International Airport. The team is also conducting interviews at Lehigh Valley International Airport in Allentown, where the flight originated, and at Atlantic City International Airport, where it stopped to pick up its passengers.
Chealander said that the investigation is considering all aspects of the flight, noting that it could take as long as a year for the final report to be issued.