Monday, March 15, 2010

NTSB update on ACE Air Cargo Beech 1900C accident in Alaska

by B. N. Sullivan

ACE Air CargoThe U. S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has released preliminary findings from their investigation of the crash of an ACE Air Cargo Beech 1900C in Alaska. The accident occurred on January 21, 2010 shortly after the aircraft (registration N112AX) took off from Runway 31 at Sand Point, Alaska en route to Anchorage. The aircraft crashed into the sea, and both pilots on board lost their lives.

According to the NTSB Preliminary Report, the aircraft took off from Sand Point at about 23:40 local time in visual meteorological conditions. An instrument flight plan to Anchorage had been filed.

The NTSB notes that a METAR at 23:56 from the weather station at Sand Point Airport reported, in part: Wind, 330 degrees (true) at 19 knots with gusts to 26 knots; visibility, 8 statute miles; clouds and sky condition, 2,000 feet broken, 2,800 feet overcast; temperature, 23 degrees F; dew point, 18 degrees F; altimeter, 29.91 inHg.

Quoting from the NTSB report:
A postaccident review of the radio communication recordings maintained by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), revealed that the captain contacted the Anchorage air route traffic control center (ARTCC), about 2336, to request an instrument flight rules (IFR) clearance for the flight from Sand Point to Anchorage. His request was granted, and he was instructed to contact ARTCC after departure from Sand Point. According to ARTCC specialist on duty, no further radio communications were received from the accident airplane.

During on-scene interviews by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigator-in-charge (IIC) on January 27, two witnesses that were standing outside a home situated along the shoreline, about 1 mile north of the Sand Point Airport, reported hearing what they believed was the accident airplane as it departed. Both witnesses reported that as the airplane’s takeoff progressed, the engine noise suddenly changed, followed by a very loud sound of impact, and then silence. One of the witnesses said that just before hearing the impact, he momentarily saw the lights of the airplane descend into the ocean. The witnesses called 911 to report the accident. Both witnesses said that winds at the time were very strong out of the north, estimated between 50 and 60 knots.

The U.S. Coast Guard's Air Station Kodiak was notified that an airplane had crashed in the water just north of the departure end of Runway 31. The Coast Guard initiated an emergency response and immediately dispatched an HH-60J rescue helicopter from Air Station Kodiak. Volunteer search personnel located floating debris, including the first officer’s flight bag in the area north of the airport, but no survivors.
The report goes on to say that on January 24, wreckage from the aircraft was located in the water about one mile north of the departure end of Runway 31. The bodies of both pilots were recovered that day.

On January 24 and 25 fragmented wreckage was recovered by divers and recovery crews and transported to Sand Point, and examination of the wreckage began on January 26. Both of the aircraft's Pratt and Whitney PT6A-65B turboshaft engines were recovered. The propeller on the aircraft's number one engine was found in the "feathered" position at recovery.

Two FAA air safety inspectors from the Anchorage Flight Standards District Office; air safety investigators from Hawker Beechcraft and Pratt and Whitney; and representatives from Alaska Central Express (ACE), Inc. joined the NTSB IIC as members of the investigating team. The investigation is ongoing, and probable cause has not yet been determined.