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This paper is research of Corporate Airlines flight 5966, a BAE-J3201, N875JX, which crashed on October 19, 2004 at Kirksville, Missouri. Although the air carrier was Corporate Airlines, it was an “American Connection” flight. The flight was scheduled to depart from Lambert-St. Louis International Airport, in St. Louis, Missouri and arrive at Kirksville Regional Airport in Kirksville, Missouri.
On an instrument flight plan, the aircraft crashed on final approach at about 7:30 pm do to an incursion with tree tops below the minimum descent altitude, destroying the plane and causing a post impact fire. The aircraft accident was caused by human factors and meteorological conditions, which resulted in two seriously injured people and a loss of thirteen souls. The aircraft itself was nearly completely destroyed by impact force and post-crash fire.
Introduction: Flight 5966 crash
Flight 5966 of Corporate Airlines followed the flight route that was destined to Kirksville, Missouri from International Airport of Lambert-St. Louis. On 19 October 2004 this twin engine Jetstream flying the route crashed near to Kirksville which killed 13 people and leaving two injured.
The NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) found out that the cause of the incident was rooted in the pilots’ inability to follow well-grounded procedures and thoroughly conduct and direct a non-precision approach at night in the instrument meteorological condition. These deviations involved pilots’ making the descent below standardized altitude and before necessary visual cues were in place (which were unmoderated until the plane hit the trees) and their inability to follow the procedures of duties and responsibilities distribution between flying an monitoring (non-flying) pilot. Other factors contributing to the accident included pilots’ failure to provide with standardized call-outs and follow current regulations of Federal Aviation which allows to descend only in the regions where safe obstacles clearance is provided or the precondition of observing airport lights is met. Among possible causes for this untenable performance of pilots were their failure to create professional atmosphere and their fatigue (NTSB, 2006). As Star newspaper reports some of thirteen passengers were doctors which should have attended medical seminar in the College of Osteopathic Medicine.
The first evidences of impact (two trees damaged were found) were observed approximately 1,5 miles to the south from the runway. The aircraft first collided with trees at the 50 feet above the terrain and broken trees were found to the northern direction from the main wreckage sector. Many of the trees that were broken could be founded in the wreckage area burning. The main parts of the debris including the remains of fuselage and empennage, portion of broken left wing, the right wing and the parts of right engine and aircraft’s propeller were found in a circular area approximately 30 feet in the diameter and were significantly damaged by fire. The most parts of aircraft’s wreckage and surrounding territory (vegetation) were burning.
The expertise of the Flight 5966 crash
The main question that had to be answered by the expertise was whether all technical and training requirements and inspections were conducted and met before the flight. As for the captain of the aircraft and the first officer they were duly qualified and certificated in accordance with Federal Regulations and received adequate training prescribed and also met all requirement of the company that employed them. The members of the flight crew also possessed all necessary medical certificates necessary for 14 Code of Federal Regulations (Part 121) flight process operations.
What concerns the plane’s technical parameters they were also properly certificated and well maintained. The plane was maintained in the accordance with all necessary regulations, standards and industry’s practices. The expertise did not reveal any pre-flight structural, powerplant or system failures and deficiencies (McCarty & Wagner, 2004).
Moreover, the crashed airplane’s loading and its cargo were not regarded as the factors that caused the accident to happen. Notwithstanding the fact that the weather was not among primary causes of the accident, low ceiling and considerably reduced visibility at Kirksville Airport made a nonprecision approach more difficult to realize and challenging to the aircraft’s pilots. The observation at the closest time of the accident showed the presence wind of about 6 knots, visibility approximately 4 statute miles, temperature at 9 C, ceiling at 300 feet agl, and altimeter that set of 29,96 inches hg. The visibility varied from 3 to 5 miles in mist conditions and the ceilings significantly varied from 300 to 500 feet agl. Further the analysis revealed that a cold front extended west-southwest from the direction of western Kentucky through the area of low pressure in western Missouri, northern Texas and southern Oklahoma. Information collected also revealed the extensive sector of clouds along and to the north of frontal boundaries of the region as well as precipitation.
What concerns Corporate Airlines, its procedures, training programs and policies were coherent with established industry standards and practices. Air traffic control as the expertise showed properly followed the instructions and coherently realized plane’s navigation, controlling and regulating functions needed for successful landing of the aircraft. All necessary information on the flight parameters and landing was given to pilots and permanent communication on the necessary issues of route, weather and technical provision was provided by Air Traffic Control staff.
It was further found that the emergency response did not negatively affect the scope and survivability of the accident. It is important to note that such technical capabilities embedded in plane system as enhanced warning system of ground proximity that was not available would have given alert that would help avoid plane collision with trees. The system was required in Federal Regulation only since March 29, 2005.
It is important to note that notwithstanding the fact the aircraft’s 1,200 (fpm) rate of the descent was coherent with company’s procedures it varied from the existing Federal Aviation Administration guidelines which recommend a descent on the rate of no more that one thousand fpm below one thousand feet above the ground level.
Thus, it can be claimed that pilots failed to follow the settled procedures and instructions which are to effectively monitor the airplane rate of descent and altitude above the terrain level in the course of later phases of approach and instead relied on visual cues which do not guarantee precision. This information was available in the cockpit monitors but the pilots were by large part preoccupied with watching approach lights.
The pilots were also preoccupied with nonessential communication below 10 thousand feet level which was contrary to set cockpit regulations and created untenable and nonsterile cockpit environment which caused substantial deviation from regulations and standard procedures, crew staff management order and discipline, distribution of duties, and requirements of professionalism which in its turn reduced the level of safety and possibly was the main factor contributing to pilots’ bad performance (Federal Aviation Administration, 2006).
In the case of compliance with the sterile cockpit rules the focus on the standard and well-established rules and procedures could be maintained by the pilots but unfortunately it didn’t happen. According to the standard guidelines, a captain should have lessened the descent speed when the plain was approaching the level of minimum descent multitude and the first officer according to the same guidelines had to challenge captain’s decision and stop the descent at the speed higher than is permissible.
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The utilization of the constant-angle-of-descent approach methods and techniques which would stabilize and create moderate flightpath rate-of-descent and good obstacle clearance would have certainly better positioned the aircraft for successful realization of approach and landing. The problem is that the current regulations that allow aircrafts to descend below a minimum descent altitude are only safe when obstacle clearance is assured; if opposite is the case the safety level is sufficiently reduced and nonprecision techniques are difficult to implement. This is especially true in the condition of low ceilings, night and reduced visibility caused by weather conditions. Furthermore, these regulations can sometimes foster pilots of an aircraft to descend at the level far below the minimal altitude in order to observe visual cues which will allow aircraft to continue its approach as in the case of accident aircraft.
Taking into consideration that less than necessary overnight time for rest was available, an early reported time for duties, and the length of pilots’ duty day, the total number of the flight legs, various demanding conditions such as nonprecision instruments approach which is flown manually in the conditions of reduced visibilities and low ceilings and encountered during difficult and long duty days, it is very likely that pilots’ fatigue considerably contributed to their bad performance and taking disproportional decisions (NTSB Preliminary Report, 2004).
Unfortunately, as expertise revealed the existing Federal Aviation Regulations do not reflect recently conducted research into pilots’ sleep and fatigue issues which increase the risk that pilots will perform their duties in a considerably fatigue conditions. In this view the provision of pilots with extra fatigue-related trainings such as for instance being developed in the framework of the Operator Fatigue Management Program of Department of Transportation will surely increase the pilots’ awareness and professionalism in utilization of fatigue-avoidance techniques which will immediately improve safety of flights.
It is important to note that an effective policy of collecting recorded data is the main prerequisite for preventing future accidents and should be developed in specific methodology. The crash of 5966 flight shows that current regulations and training systems should be enhanced in the view of preserving the safety of passengers and crew members. Of course, this would require consolidated effort on the part of all stakeholders in the industry and state regulation organs.
Federal Aviation Administration (2006). Flight crewmembers duties. FAR 121.542. 2007. Web.
McCarty, M. & Wagner, M. (2004). Flight of Angels: One small plane, two pilots, 13 passengers — one horrific crash. Dayton Daily News.
NTSB (2006). A Collision with Trees and Crash Short of the Runway, Corporate Airlines Flight 5966. Aircraft Accident Report NTSB/AAR-06/01. Washington, DC: National Transportation Safety Board.
NTSB Preliminary Report (2004). DCA05MA004. National Transportation Safety Board. 2007. Web.