Friday, July 06, 2007

NTSB investigation: Cessna Citation crash into Lake Michigan

NTSBThe National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has issued its first update on the crash of a medical flight into Lake Michigan on the afternoon of June 4, 2007. The two crew members and four passengers who were on board the Cessna Citation II 550 were lost when the aircraft crashed into Lake Michigan shortly after departure from General Mitchell International Airport (MKE) in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The accident aircraft was operated by Marlin Air.

The new NTSB advisory provides the following details about the flight:
A review of air traffic control (ATC) voice communications and recorded radar data revealed that the flight crew reported an emergency and their intention to return to MKE shortly after takeoff. During those communications, one of the flight crew members reported that they had experienced a runaway trim. In a later transmission, a pilot was heard telling the other pilot to hold the airplane's controls so that he could pull circuit breakers.

Initial examination of the radar data shows the airplane departing MKE and executing a climbing right turn to a northeast heading. The airplane's initial climb lasted for approximately one minute at which time the airplane leveled off for approximately 16 seconds at a pressure altitude of 3,900 feet. The airplane then began another climb at 1,300 feet per minute. This climb lasted for about 30 seconds at which time the airplane's pressure altitude was 4,400 feet. The radar data then shows the airplane in a descending left turn for the remaining 69 seconds of the data. The average descent rate during this period was 2,260 feet per minute. The last radar return shows the airplane at 1,800 feet pressure altitude. The wreckage debris field was located less than 0.2 nautical miles southeast of the last radar return.
The cockpit voice recorder (CVR) was recovered and sent to the NTSB Vehicle Recorders Laboratory in Washington, DC.
The CVR's case was severely damaged, but information from the accident flight could be extracted. The information indicated that the flight crew had difficulty with the directional control of the airplane shortly after takeoff. A CVR Group was formed, and a complete transcript of the 30-minute recording is being developed.
Wreckage from the aircraft was recovered from Lake Michigan and was taken to a facility near Poplar Grove, Illinois for examination.
The subsequent wreckage examination performed by the NTSB revealed pitch, roll, and yaw trim settings that were not in the neutral position. The Board will continue to assess the significance of these settings. Various flight control components and avionics units have been harvested for further testing and examination.
The NTSB advisory states that an aircraft performance study is being developed with information from the CVR, radar data, and flight control positions to describe the motions of the airplane during the accident flight. Additionally, plans are being developed to utilize a Cessna Citation II flight simulator to further explore possible failure scenarios.

The aircraft was operating as a 14 CFR Part 135 air medical flight for the University of Michigan Health System. It was en route from Milwaukee to Willow Run Airport, Ypsilanti at the time of the accident.

The two pilots lost in the accident have been identified as Dennis Hoyes, 65, and Bill Serra, 59. (Links go to their obituaries in the Detroit News.) The four passengers were part of a University of Michigan organ transplant team. Condolences to their families and friends.