There were no U.S.-registered fatal turbine business airplane accidents in the third quarter of this year. However, the exceptionally high number of fatal accidents and fatalities in the first half of this year are aiming to set a record, with the second quarter clearly being the deadliest time frame. According to preliminary statistics gathered by AIN, 21 people died in five business jet crashes and 36 lost their lives in eight turboprop crashes during the first nine months of this year. Ten of the 13 fatal turbine airplane accidents occurred while operating under Part 91.
In the same nine-month block last year, three died in two business jet accidents and eight perished in four turboprop mishaps. Four of the six fatal turbine accidents in 2018 were being flown under Part 91. There were no reported accidents this year involving Part 91K operations, but there was once incident on August 8 in which three people were injured when their NetJets Bombardier Challenger 600 was hit by wake turbulence. There also was one 91K incident in the corresponding time frame a year ago.
To put this year’s fatality count in context, note that 10 passengers and three crew members were reported killed in one event; the May 5 crash of a chartered N-number Bombardier Challenger 601-3A in Mexico.
Two died in the May 22 crash of a Cessna Citation SII. According to the NTSB preliminary report, shortly after departing in day VMC from Runway 7 at Indianapolis Regional Airport, the airplane began a left turn toward its assigned heading of 320 degrees. After reaching an altitude of about 1,400 feet msl, the airplane descended until it disappeared from ATC radar.
A witness at the airport saw the airplane in an estimated 90-degree left bank with the nose parallel to the horizon shortly after departure. He observed the airplane’s nose lower slightly before rising again to a level attitude. At no point did he see the nose of the airplane rise above the horizon. Then the nose again lowered and the airplane crashed into the ground.
Two days later, on May 24, the sole-occupant pilot was killed when a Citation 560 overshot its planned destination and crashed into the sea. The U.S. Air Force dispatched two aircraft to intercept the business jet. One of the interceptor pilots said he could see the pilot unconscious and slumped over the controls. The intercept airplanes followed the twinjet until it descended into the Atlantic Ocean about 310 miles east of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, three-and-half hours after departing.
On April 13, three were killed in the crash of a Rockwell Sabreliner following a reported electrical malfunction. The twinjet was on an IFR flight plan filed under Part 91. Day IMC in heavy rain existed.
The first fatal jet accident this year occurred on March 18 to Israel Aircraft Industries Westwind 1124.
As the airplane approached for landing at Sundance Airport in Oklahoma City, it began to climb, rolled left, and became inverted before hitting terrain. Both pilots were killed. The aircraft was operating as a Part 91 flight and day VMC prevailed at the time of the crash. Investigators found the landing gear and wing flaps extended, the left thrust reverser unlatched and open, and the right thrust reverser closed and latched.
Unable to Divert
A Citation 560 on a Part 91 business flight encountered continuous severe clear air turbulence on June 27 after the pilot was unable to obtain ATC clearance to deviate. Although the twinjet was not damaged, a passenger sustained serious injuries. At FL240, the pilot requested a deviation from ATC on the south side of a squall line and “made several urgent requests for a clearance to deviate,” according to the NTSB. Controllers were not able to approve the deviation and advised the pilot to descend to FL200. During the descent, the airplane flew through four 15- to 20-second severe turbulence events, with a five- to 10-second interval between events. Again, the pilot made “several urgent requests” for deviation, but ATC was not able to approve the request.
No less remarkable than the high number of fatalities so far this year were four crash-and-burn accidents within six weeks of each other in which there were no fatalities. On August 26, all 11 passengers and crew evacuated safely from a Citation Excel before fire consumed their aircraft. While on final approach in fog to Aligarh Airport, India, the aircraft reportedly hit antenna wires which ruptured the left-wing fuel tank before the aircraft touched down.
On August 21, a Citation Excel experienced a runway excursion after an aborted takeoff. All 10 occupants evacuated before fire engulfed the airplane. On August 15, a Citation Latitude overran the runway and caught fire after landing. Five persons on board, including retired Nascar driver Dale Earnhardt Jr., his wife, infant daughter, the two pilots, and a dog escaped without serious injuries. The aircraft was destroyed by the fire.
Also escaping without serious injury after crash landing his Citation II on July 17 at Nevada’s Mesquite Airport, the sole-occupant pilot was subsequently arrested on one count of operating an aircraft under the influence of alcohol. The aircraft was totaled from the post-crash fire. Meanwhile, the pilot is out of jail and his next scheduled court appearance is on November 13.
Turboprop Fatal Count Worse
Two Beech King Air takeoff accidents resulted in 21 of the fatalities involving turboprops in this year’s first half: 11 in the June 21 crash of a skydiving A90 and 10 on June 30 of a Model 350 that hit a hangar on takeoff. Two more fatal accidents in the same month included a Cessna Conquest that crashed on June 10 killing the pilot and sole occupant, and the in-flight breakup on June 7 of a turboprop-converted Piper Malibu that resulted in four fatalities. In this case, IMC prevailed, but the pilot was not instrument rated. A turboprop-converted Malibu was also involved in a fatal crash on February 28 killing the two people on board.
A May 13 midair between two Part 135 tour aircraft took the life of one person in a de Havilland Turbine Otter and (not shown in the charts) all five people in a piston-powered de Havilland Beaver. On January 21, the four occupants on a turbine DC-3 died when their converted twin crashed, and three died in the January 29 accident of an air ambulance King Air 200.
One non-U.S.-registered business jet accident in the first nine months of this year was fatal to the sole-occupant pilot. On August 6 at about 6:45 p.m., a privately operated, Chilean-registered Citation Mustang on approach to Chile’s Los Ángeles-María Dolores Airport crashed some 1,000 feet short of the runway. In the same period last year, 12 people died in two crashes involving non-U.S.-registered jets.
Until the third quarter, there had been no fatal accidents this year involving non-U.S.-registered turboprops. But 17 people lost their lives in four charter propjet crashes between July and September. In the first nine months of last year, two people were killed in two privately-operated tubroprop mishaps; five perished in the crash of a charter turboprop; and 12 were killed under “other” operations involving business turboprops.
An incident that could have easily turned into a disaster involved a German-registered Bombardier Global 5000 and, once again, underscores the importance of ensuring controls are "free and correct" before takeoff. On April 16, the jet departed Berlin-Schönefeld Airport on a functional check flight after having undergone heavy maintenance. The aircraft returned to Berlin after reaching 21,000 feet and experiencing “flight control problems.” Both wingtips are said to have contacted the runway on takeoff. The extent of damage prompted authorities to determine the plane was a total loss. The cause: “The torque tube assembly of the aircraft’s controls had been wrongly installed, causing a flight control reversal.”