Five Lost in Cheyenne Break-Up
Piper PA-31T, Eatonton, Georgia, June 5, 2020 – Five members of a Florida family perished after their twin-engine turboprop broke apart in level cruise flight at FL250. The pilot and owner, his daughter and son-in-law, and their two small children were en route from Williston, Florida to New Castle, Indiana, reportedly to attend a funeral. Press accounts suggesting thunderstorms in the vicinity have not been officially confirmed.
About 50 miles south of Eatonton, the pilot advised air traffic control that he was deviating “to the right a little” for weather. Passing Eatonton, he requested clearance direct to their destination, which was approved; this was the last radio contact with the flight. About one minute later, the Cheyenne entered a right turn and descended rapidly out of radar coverage. Witnesses on the ground captured cell phone footage showing the airplane spinning, on fire, and trailing black smoke. No distress calls were received.
The main wreckage crashed inverted into dense forest and continued to burn. The outboard sections of both wings and part of the tail separated during the descent and were found about three miles away. As of the June 18 publication of the NTSB’s preliminary report, the left engine had not been located.
Freight Pilot Killed in Pre-dawn Departure Crash
Mitsubishi MU-2B-60, June 7, 2020, Sioux Falls, South Dakota – The airplane crashed during an attempted takeoff at 4:26 a.m., killing the solo pilot. The Part 135 cargo flight originated at Everett, Washington’s Paine Field with an ultimate destination of Kokomo Municipal Airport, Indiana and a planned fuel stop at the Huron Regional Airport in South Dakota. Weather at Huron, however, prompted the pilot to divert to Joe Foss Field in Sioux Falls, where he landed around 1:40.
According to the NTSB’s June 22 preliminary report, the pilot had misplaced his mobile telephone and was unable to reach the FBO’s after-hours service number. The operator’s dispatcher was likewise unable to reach the pilot and contacted the FBO at 3:10 a.m. The on-call lineman arrived and confirmed that the airplane and pilot were on the ramp, then lent his phone to the pilot so he could check in with dispatch while the airplane was refueled.
Preliminary radar data suggest that at 4:26 a.m. the MU-2B began an apparently normal takeoff roll on Runway 15, then pitched up sharply and began to roll to the right. The only three radar hits showed that it reached a maximum altitude of 70 feet before crashing into the infield on the south side of Runway 21. Groundspeed was estimated at 85 knots. All major portions of the aircraft, including the nose, tail, both wings, and both engines, were found in the debris field on airport grounds.
No Fatalities in Loss of Kenyan Police Helicopter
AgustaWestland AW119 Mark II, June 13, 2020, Kaithe Kithoka, Meru, Kenya – A police helicopter carrying security officials to a meeting in Marsabit crashed onto the grounds of a banana plantation. All six occupants survived to be transported to a hospital, with at least one reported as seriously injured. Witnesses described the helicopter circling the site for as much as 15 minutes before going down. Unconfirmed press accounts attribute the accident to a “mechanical problem” en route, though one source also reported the pilot’s having made a precautionary landing for weather earlier in the flight.
Photographs from the scene show the fuselage lying on its right side amidst broken trees. The farm’s owner reported extensive damage to her produce, stating that “The crash has destroyed my maize, my bananas, and other crops, currently there will be nothing to harvest now, as you can see.”
Cessna 208 Amphibian, Oct. 17, 2017, Anavilhanas Archipelago, Amazonas, Brazil – Five weeks before a fatal wheels-down water landing, the 8,535-hour pilot of the Manaus Air Taxi amphibian failed a periodic revalidation of his single-engine seaplane rating after “not perform[ing] the Before Start Checklist, the After Start Checklist, the Taxi Checklist, and the Takeoff Checklist. He made some memory items, but did not follow the checklist.” The pilot and three passengers escaped with minor injuries after the airplane pitched onto its nose and overturned, but a fourth passenger drowned before he could be extricated. The flight originated from Runway 10 of the Eduardo Gomes Aerodrome in Manaus and was airborne for about 20 minutes.
After the wreckage was recovered, investigators found the gear selector in the “UP – Water Landing” position and the water rudders up and locked. However, the circuit breakers for the two hydraulic pumps that operate the landing gear were among four found open. Eight days before the accident, maintenance staff had conducted the floats’ annual inspection, which included a test of the emergency manual extension and retraction system that pressurizes the hydraulic system using a hand pump. The emergency procedure test requires pulling the circuit breakers, but the maintenance checklist does not specify resetting them afterwards. The CENIPA’s final report suggests that the Caravan had not been flown in the interim and quoted another amphibian pilot as having seen it over the city of Manaus with the wheels extended the day of the accident.
While the pilot successfully passed a re-examination on September 28, investigators obtained other reports of his disinclination to follow written checklists. “Circuit Breakers IN” is Item 7 on the cabin section of the preflight checklist, while confirming gear up via the blue indicator lights is the second item on the water landing checklist. The pilot did not recall noticing either the circuit breakers or the gear position lights before the landing. The final safeguard, an automated gear position annunciator, apparently did not sound because it was adjusted to activate at an airspeed of 74 knots–six knots slower than the 80 knots the pilot flew on the accident approach.
Underwater Egress Training Proves Vital
Sikorsky S-64E, Jan. 28, 2019, Wood Creek Dam, Victoria, Australia – Three crewmen credit their escape from the submerged fuselage of an Erickson AirCrane to “the rehearsed drills from their helicopter underwater escape training (HUET).” The helicopter was conducting water drops on a bushfire when it crashed into the surface of the lake while attempting to refill. The Australian Transport Safety Bureau’s final report, published on April 17, attributed the sudden loss of lift to vortex ring state, also known as “settling with power,” on the last of a series of increasingly steep approaches to a dip site in a confined area at the bottom of a steep, tree-lined valley.
The accident occurred in the crew’s third two-hour shift of the afternoon. During that time, their drop sites east of the dip site had gradually shifted north and west, causing their approaches to the lake to shift from a near-rectangular ground track with a 90 degree turn to final to a narrow figure eight with a final turn of at least 135 degrees. The final approach path also grew progressively shorter over the afternoon, requiring increasingly steep descents. On the accident approach, the descent rate increased from 650 to 780 feet per minute, close to the operator’s external-load limitation of 800 fpm within 200 feet of the surface. The steeper approach in turn required a more aggressive flare to transition into a hover.
The crew described a chaotic situation after the helicopter struck the water tail-first, spun one and a half times to the right, and rolled onto its left side. According to the ATSB, “They identified their seat belt and nearest exit to orientate themselves in the aircraft. They all waited until the last moment to draw a breath, and did not unbuckle and exit the helicopter until motion had ceased. The crew reported that it was not possible to see anything underwater, and that jet fuel contamination was present.” Two other company helicopters were on the scene and reported the accident but could not provide material assistance. The crewmen inflated their life jackets, swam to shore, and “trekked through dense bush to a road where they were met by rescuers.” Quick-disconnect plugs on their helmet cords allowed the pilots to extricate themselves without removing their helmets.
Vortex ring state is an aerodynamic phenomenon in which the combination of low forward airspeed and a high descent rate causes a helicopter’s main rotor to recirculate its own downwash rather than moving undisturbed air downwards to produce lift. The pilots were trained in the recovery procedure, but circumstances provided neither the necessary lateral and vertical clearance nor sufficient time to execute it.
Loss of Citation Encore Officially Unexplained
Cessna 560, May 24, 2019, Atlantic Ocean – In a probable-cause report published on May 19, the NTSB declined to attribute the jet’s offshore ditching to pilot incapacitation, though the report describes him as having become “unresponsive to air traffic controllers” 13 minutes after checking in with the Atlanta Air Route Traffic Control Center (ARTCC). Because neither the pilot nor the aircraft were recovered after crashing into the ocean 310 miles east of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, the Board instead attributed its loss to “reasons that could not be determined based on the available information.”
The accident occurred on a repositioning flight from St. Louis Regional Airport in Alton, Illinois to Fort Lauderdale Executive, where the airplane’s new owner had scheduled avionics work. The 52-year-old contract pilot had airline transport pilot certification, more than 9,000 hours of experience, and multiple type ratings including the Cessna 560. After reporting smooth conditions at FL390 to the Atlanta controller, he did not read back the subsequent hand-off to the Jacksonville ARTCC. Jacksonville and Miami controllers continued tracking the airplane as it passed through their airspace and out to sea, maintaining FL390.
Two U.S. Air Force interceptors sent in pursuit reported that only the Citation’s right engine was producing a vapor trail. It slowed to about 100 knots as they passed it, appearing to lose all engine power, and descended into the ocean. The Air Force pilots were unable to see the cockpit windows or anything in its interior. The Coast Guard’s search for the wreckage was suspended the following day.