Accidents: April 2020

 - April 2, 2020, 3:59 AM

Preliminary Reports

In-Flight Breakup Kills Four

Cessna 501 Citation I/SP, February 8, 2020, Fairmount, Georgia—A 1981-model Cessna Citation I broke up in midair after its pilots reported “problems” with the autopilot and the left-side attitude indicator. Both pilots and their two passengers were killed; the resulting debris path stretched 7,000 feet. The airplane was on the first leg of a round trip between Atlanta’s Falcon Field and the John W. Tune Airport in Nashville; described on its flight plan as a “training” flight.

After issuing instructions to maintain 10,000 feet and turn right to 020 degrees, the controller observed the airplane flying northwesterly and asked the pilots to verify their heading. One responded that they were “returning to a 320-degree heading” and reported an autopilot problem. During the series of altitude excursions that followed, one pilot reported that they were “playing with the autopilot.” The controller suggested they disconnect it and asked whether they could return to their departure airport. The pilot asked to continue to their destination and requested a climb into visual conditions. They were cleared to 12,000 and then 13,000 feet, though other aircraft had reported being in the clouds at 17,000. 

Following a handoff, they were cleared to 16,000 feet. One pilot reported “problems” with the left attitude indicator, forcing them to rely on the right one. Climbing through 15,400 feet, the jet entered a left turn and disappeared from radar. Numerous attempts to contact it went unanswered.

The left-seat pilot held a private pilot certificate with single-engine airplane and instrument ratings. He had 805 hours of total flight experience and was reportedly scheduled to begin training for a CE-500 type rating. The 5,924-hour commercial pilot in the right seat was the pilot-in-command. In addition to single- and multiengine airplane, single-engine seaplane, and instrument ratings, he held a flight instructor certificate with single- and multiengine airplane and instrument ratings and a CE-500 type rating. His experience included 573 hours of total instrument time and 88 hours in make and model.

Three Die in Texas King Air Crash

Beech B200, February 20, 2020, Coleman, Texas—A King Air 200 crashed in open ranchland near Lake Coleman, Texas, killing all three on board, after its pilot reported malfunctioning deicing equipment. The airplane was passing through 11,600 feet during its initial climb from Abilene in conditions including freezing drizzle and light rime icing, when the pilot reported that the deicing system’s circuit breaker had opened and would not reset. The controller gave them a direct clearance back to Abilene and told them to expect the ILS approach to Runway 35R.

After the airplane failed to turn to its assigned heading, the pilot reported “issues with faulty instruments.” He gave his altitude as 4,700 feet, was instructed to maintain 5,000, and replied that he was “pulling up.” There were no further communications. Radar track data showed the King Air entering a tightening right turn before disappearing from coverage. 

Suspicious Fire Destroys Parked Jet

Dassault Falcon 50, February 28, 2020, Markham, Ontario, Canada—An overnight fire caused apparently irreparable damage to a U.S.-registered corporate jet parked on the ramp at Markham’s Buttonville Airport. Firefighters arrived at the airport around 11:30 p.m. and extinguished the blaze with foam, but photographs show that most of the cabin roof was consumed.

Investigators found a hole cut through a chain-link fence and tracks in the snow leading to the airplane. An empty gasoline can was found just below its airstair. The airplane, registered to a trustee in Wilmington, Delaware, had been parked at Buttonville “for some time,” but police could not say how long. Its last flight documented on was from White Plains, New York, to Buttonville last October 24.

No Injuries in Helicopter Rollover

Eurocopter EC 130 B4, March 5, 2020, Hilo, Hawaii—The pilot and all five passengers escaped serious injury after an air tour helicopter rolled over following a precautionary landing. Eight Hawaii Fire Department units including the county’s helicopter responded to the scene, with the helicopter transporting the six occupants to the Pahoe Fire Station for evaluation. All were reported in good condition, though five were subsequently taken to the Hilo Medical Center as a precaution.

At press time the reason for the precautionary landing had not been disclosed.


Final Reports

Slipping Power Lever Caused Fatal Runway Excursion

Let L410PV-E20, April 14, 2019, Tenzing-Hillary Airport, Lukla, Nepal—The first officer’s failure to keep one hand on the power levers during the takeoff roll allowed the right lever to slide backward, resulting in asymmetric thrust that drove the twin-engine commuter airplane off the right side of the runway and into an idling AS350B3e. The helicopter’s main rotor sliced through the airplane’s cockpit, killing the first officer, and the helicopter pilot was injured and trapped in the wreckage. The airplane continued onto the ramp, causing minor damage to another parked AS350 before coming to rest. Two police officials greeting an arriving VIP were struck by the airplane’s right wing, killing one on the spot; the second died during airlift to a hospital. The accident sequence lasted less than 10 seconds.

In its final report, Nepal’s Aircraft Accident Investigation Commission also faulted the 15,652-hour captain’s decision to let the 865-hour first officer attempt the takeoff from one of the world’s shortest high-elevation runways. However, it attributed principal responsibility to the first officer’s using both hands on the control column rather than keeping his left hand on the power levers. The captain recalled that the accident aircraft had previously “had some technical issue regarding friction lock and power lever…and normal practice was to keep hand on power lever by captain on takeoff roll.”

A combination of CCTV footage and data downloaded from the flight data recorder showed that during the first three seconds of the takeoff roll, the right engine’s torque decreased from 70 to 29 percent. The captain recognized the loss of thrust and advanced the right power lever while also applying the brakes, but the right wheel gained more traction than the left, accelerating the swerve. In the next two seconds, the airplane hit the airport’s inner perimeter fence and the two police officials, then the two helicopters. The captain subsequently acknowledged that he should have used full reverse thrust as well as the foot brakes to abort the takeoff.

Tenzing-Hillary Airport is known as one of the world’s most challenging, with a runway of just 527 meters (1,729 feet) pitched on a nearly 12 percent grade at an elevation of 2,845 meters (9,334 feet). All takeoffs are made from Runway 24 and all landings on Runway 06, and operations are often suspended for weather after about 10:00 a.m. The AAIC’s report notes that the accident flight would have been the morning’s fourth on the 20-minute route between Lukla and Ramechhap, that the combination of good weather and an empty airplane added further risk of complacency, and that “the desire of copilots to master difficult airports before even being authorized or ready to do so” continues to pose “a major challenge” to Nepal’s aviation industry.

Commander Landed Safely After Loss of Elevator

Aero Commander 695, May 11, 2019, Mount Holly, New Jersey—The pilot of a 1981 Turbo Commander was able to coax the airplane to a safe landing after a deer strike during the takeoff roll destroyed its right horizontal stabilizer and separated the right elevator. The airplane’s copilot told investigators that another deer crossed the runway ahead of a landing Piper Cherokee while the Commander was still number three for departure. He did not see any other deer during the roughly 15-minute interval in which the two preceding aircraft departed and they received their IFR clearance to Nashua, New Hampshire. However, as the Commander accelerated through 60 knots, three deer appeared on the right side of the runway, bolting across as the turboprop twin reached rotation airspeed. Two apparently passed harmlessly behind its tail, but the third hit the fuselage just ahead of the right propeller, causing a 20- to 30-degree left yaw that the pilot quickly corrected.

The pilot reported that just after impact, they’d reached 120 knots airspeed with 2,300 feet of runway remaining, insufficient to abort the takeoff.  A controllability test suggested normal roll and yaw response; pitch authority, while limited, seemed adequate to return for a full-length landing.  Expecting damage to the landing gear, the pilot extended it and requested visual assessments from ground observers and the pilot of a nearby Cessna 172. Both reported that the gear appeared normal without mentioning the damage to the tail.

The pilot flew a left downwind pattern to the departure runway. Pitch control deteriorated as they slowed on final approach and he was unable to flare the airplane, resulting in a “very hard” landing. The co-pilot reported that the deer “somehow missed the prop but left a trail of damage all the way down the right side of the airplane…almost completely taking off the right stabilizer.” Photographs in the NTSB docket confirm that the stabilizer was bent upwards at least 30 degrees. The right elevator was subsequently recovered on the airport property.

Rejected Takeoff Ignites Landing Gear Fire

Cessna 560 Citation Encore+, February 2, 2020, Eleuthera, Bahamas—Heat generated by heavy braking during an aborted takeoff caused the right main tire of a U.S.-registered Citation Encore+ to catch fire, damaging the right main gear assembly, gear door, and underside of the right wing.  There were no injuries to the two-pilot crew or the two passengers. 

In an Occurrence Bulletin released four days after the accident, the Bahamas’ Aircraft Accident Investigation Authority reported that during the takeoff roll, the Tampa-bound airplane was not accelerating normally, and its pitch attitude did not respond to back pressure on the yoke. The first officer called to abort the takeoff and the pilot pulled the thrust levers to idle, deployed the thrust reversers, and applied the brakes. After it came to a stop and made a 180-degree turn on the runway, the first officer saw smoke coming from the airplane’s right side. 

The first officer evacuated the passengers as the pilot shut down the engines, and the Eleuthera Airport Fire Rescue service extinguished the fire. As of this writing, the cause of the anomalies during the takeoff roll has not been reported.