Learjet Was Turning to Final Approach Before Fatal Crash

 - December 29, 2021, 10:56 AM

All four occupants aboard a Learjet 35A were killed Monday night when the aircraft crashed as it was completing a left turn in the traffic pattern to Runway 27R at Gillespie Field in El Cajon, California, near San Diego. It struck a residential area about 1.5 miles east of the runway threshold and burst into flames. Metar weather reported a few minutes before the 7:15 p.m. accident included three statute miles visibility in mist and light wind.

The twinjet, N880Z, registered to MedJet, had taken off from John Wayne Santa Ana Airport 16 minutes earlier. Two pilots and two nurses were aboard. It was returning to base after transporting a patient to Santa Ana.

According to FlightAware, the flight was filed for 9,000 feet but actually climbed to 11,000 feet. At 7:08 p.m. air traffic control cleared the flight for an instrument approach to 4,145-foot Runway 17, which has a 450-foot displaced threshold. 

According to the NTSB, "As the airplane neared the airport environment, the pilot requested a change to a visual approach to Runway 27R," which is 5,342 feet long and has a 706-foot displaced threshold. The tower controller cleared the aircraft for a left-hand traffic pattern. The crew then requested the runway lights be turned up, to which the controller replied that "they are at 100 percent now."

Three NTSB investigators were sent to the accident site where they will remain for about three days. The agency said the aircraft was equipped with a cockpit voice recorder, but not a flight data recorder. The agency "does not plan to conduct any media briefings during the on-scene phase of the investigation," said an NTSB spokesperson. "The next release of information will be the preliminary report, not expected for several weeks."

This crash is the first fatal accident since 2015 involving a U.S.-registered business jet while on an authorized Part 135 flight. A fatal U.S. business jet crash in 2018 was later determined to have been an illegal charter.

The accident occurred on the eve of a business aviation safety roundtable hosted by the National Air Transportation Association and the Air Charter Safety Foundation scheduled for Jan.25, 2022, in Washington, D.C. The event, free of charge, is aimed at "engaging Part 135 operators to discuss their most pressing safety challenges," NATA senior v-p Ryan Waguespack told AIN. “There is so much activity now.”

When registering, participants are asked to list their top three safety issues, said Waguespack. A vote will determine where they belong in order of priority, “and by the end of the day an action plan to address each item will be developed.”