In-flight Breakup Ends Illegal High-altitude Flight
Piper PA-46-350P JetProp Conversion, June 7, 2019, Castalia, North Carolina—The airplane broke up in flight during a suspected thunderstorm encounter, killing all four on board. En route from Naples, Florida, to Easton, Maryland, at FL270 on an instrument flight plan, the pilot received an alert from air traffic control of weather ahead and ATC rerouted him via the Franklin, Virginia VOR. Two minutes later the pilot reported encountering rain; the airplane climbed to FL273 before entering a rapidly descending right turn during which radio and radar contact were lost. Weather radar images reviewed afterward “indicated that the airplane was in the vicinity of heavy rain and thunderstorms at the time.” The elevator and outboard sections of both wings were found 1.4 miles from the fuselage and inboard wing sections.
The 2007-model Piper had been converted from piston to turbine power in 2017 under a supplemental type certificate held by JetProp LLC. The NTSB’s preliminary report, filed June 14, notes that its owner and pilot did not hold an instrument rating. The passenger in the right front seat was instrument-rated but not legally current for flight under instrument flight rules, having logged no instrument approaches or flight in actual instrument conditions during the previous 12 months. Federal Aviation Regulations require all flights between FL180 and FL600 to operate under instrument flight rules; to do so, the pilot is required to hold an instrument rating and meet currency requirements that include having logged at least six instrument approaches plus holding procedures and course tracking using electronic navigation systems within the preceding six months.
Eleven Dead in Hawaiian Skydiving Accident
Beechcraft King Air A90-65, June 21, 2019, Mokuleia, Oahu, Hawaii—Ten parachutists and the pilot were killed when their jump plane crashed moments after takeoff from Runway 08 of Oahu’s Dillingham Field. According to the NTSB preliminary report filed on July 8, another of the operator’s parachute instructors said that the airplane’s takeoff roll sounded “normal, consistent with the engines operating at high power.” By the time it came into his sight at an altitude of 150-to-200 feet, however, it was already banking to the left. Footage from an airport surveillance camera shows that it struck the ground in an inverted, 45-degree nose-down attitude and was immediately consumed by a fireball. The debris field was confined to a 75-foot-wide area just inside the airport’s perimeter fence.
On July 12, the Hawaii Tribune-Herald reported that the operator, Oahu Parachute Center, was “not in good standing” with the state’s Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs, had never obtained a permit to conduct skydive operations, and was not a registered tenant of the Dillingham Airport. A predecessor company, the Hawaii Parachute Center, had obtained a permit limited to parachute rigging and repairs.
King Air Crashes into Hangar Outside Dallas
Beechcraft B300 King Air 350i, June 30, 2019, Addison, Texas—A two-year-old King Air 350i with two pilots and eight passengers on board veered left and crashed into a hangar seconds after takeoff from Runway 15 of the Addison, Texas Airport. There were no survivors. A Dassault Falcon 900B inside the hangar was damaged by the impact and resultant fire, but there were no injuries on the ground.
A preliminary NTSB report released on July 8 notes that the accident sequence was witnessed by several people on airport grounds and also captured by multiple security cameras. One witness characterized the engine noise as quieter than usual and thought it “did not have enough power to take off.” After lifting off, the airplane began a left drift that developed into a roll. It went completely inverted before striking the hangar “in a right-wing-down, nose low, and inverted attitude…The main wreckage came to rest on its right side and was destroyed by the impact forces and post-impact fire.”
The cockpit voice recorder was recovered and contained two hours of high-quality audio that included the accident flight. About eight seconds before the end of the recording, a crew member is heard to mention a problem with the left engine. The last three seconds contain three automated aural “bank angle” warnings.
Coal Baron, Daughter Among Seven Victims in the Bahamas
AgustaWestland AW139, July 4, 2019, two miles off Grand Cay Island, Abaco, Bahamas—West Virginia coal magnate Chris Cline and his daughter Kameron were among the seven killed when their helicopter crashed into the Atlantic two miles west of Grand Cay Island in the Bahamas at approximately 2 a.m. The other victims included two pilots and three friends of Kameron Cline’s. The group had been spending the Fourth of July holiday at Mr. Cline’s private cay when Kameron reportedly suffered a medical emergency. The flight was intended to transport her to a Florida hospital.
The helicopter was reported missing at 2:53 p.m. the following day. Searchers located it about two miles offshore in 16 feet of water. After investigators mapped and photographed the underwater debris field, the wreckage was raised and transported to the United States. Unconfirmed press reports suggest that the victims were found strapped into their seats, with the pilot’s hands still on the controls.
Bahama’s Air Accidents Investigation Department has elected to delegate the investigation to the U.S. NTSB. As of July 15, the NTSB had not yet released its preliminary report.
No Reason Found for Cheyenne Engine Failure
Piper PA-31T, July 13, 2017, Tyler, Texas—Underscoring the risk posed by an engine failure after takeoff even in a turbine-powered twin-engine airplane, the NTSB has ascribed the fatal crash of a turbine-powered Piper PA-31T Cheyenne during takeoff from Tyler, Texas’s Pounds Regional Airport to the pilot’s failure to control the airplane after a sudden loss of power in the right engine. The actual cause of the engine failure was not determined, as examination of the wreckage uncovered no pre-impact anomalies. The airplane rolled left and descended into the ground about half a mile from the departure end of Runway 17 after an initial climb the tower controller described as shallower than usual. Fuel was present at the scene but there was no post-impact fire.
The 62-year-old airline transport pilot held type ratings in the Boeing 737 and Falcon 10. His most recent first-class medical application filed six months earlier cited 17,590 hours of career flight experience. The Board’s finding of probable cause, adopted July 8, noted that the accident flight was his first as pilot-in-command of a PA-31T since completing a checkout three days earlier. The family of the only passenger, a prominent East Texas pastor, subsequently filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against the airplane’s operator and the pilot’s heirs.
Pilot Flew into Ground While on Cell Phone
Bell 206L-3, September 16, 2017, Ancho, New Mexico—The fatal crash of the news reporting helicopter of an Albuquerque television station occurred while the pilot was on the phone with an automobile rental agency. The NTSB attributed the collision to “the pilot’s distraction by a cell phone during a low-altitude flight,” citing the pilot’s phone records as showing that he was in the midst of the call with a rental agency at the Albuquerque Sunport at the moment of the accident. The employee with whom he was speaking, who knew the pilot, recalled that the call disconnected “in mid-sentence” while they discussed a future rental. She added that while she wasn’t aware the pilot was in a helicopter at the time, she did notice that he seemed “busy or distracted.”
The accident occurred at 4:35 p.m. in good visibility with light winds. The report describes the accident site as “flat terrain in open ranch land” at an elevation of 6,330 feet. Ground scars in the 300-foot debris field “were consistent with a slight, nose-low impact with terrain.” The television equipment on the bottom of the helicopter, operated by KRQE TV-13, was found near the point of initial impact.
The flight was returning to its base in Albuquerque from Roswell, where the 64-year-old, 8,800-hour commercial pilot (who was also a reporter) had spent the night after covering a story near Carlsbad. The last position fix recorded on a portable Garmin Aera 796 GPS recovered from the scene was about 1.5 nm from the accident site at an altitude of 6,456 feet, or 126 feet above the ground.
CFIT Confirmed in New Mexico Helicopter Wreck
Bell UH-1H, January 17, 2018, Raton, New Mexico—As he was being transported to a hospital following the accident, the pilot of a Vietnam-era Bell UH-1 Huey helicopter acknowledged having flown the aircraft into terrain. It struck a mesa during a night flight from the Raton airport to a ranch near Folsom, New Mexico. He succumbed to his injuries in transit, one of five fatalities in the accident. One passenger survived with a broken shoulder and broken arm. The group had flown from Houston to Raton on a Hawker 800 jet earlier in the day and was en route to a fiftieth birthday party for a close friend of the surviving passenger. The accident occurred around 6 p.m., about 25 minutes after the end of civil evening twilight, on a moonless night.
The NTSB’s probable-cause report describes the accident site as a flat mesa only about 100 feet higher than surrounding terrain with no sources of ground light and few features that would be visible at night in the vicinity. Skies were clear with 10 miles' visibility reported; the pilot’s decision to fly at such low altitude over unfamiliar terrain was not explained. The report also notes that the helicopter was registered in the restricted category for aerial application and was therefore not authorized to carry passengers under FAR 91.313.