...And The High Price Of A Good Time

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"Aw [expletive] we're gonna hit houses, dude." The NTSB has released new information -- including cockpit voice excerpts (see NewsWire) -- related to the Oct. 14 fatal crash of a Pinnacle Airlines regional jet. The pilots were flying an empty Bombardier CL-600-2B19 and hoping to "have a little fun" when they decided to climb to the jet's maximum altitude at FL410, according to transcripts from the Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR) that the NTSB released this week. The two were ferrying the 50-seat jet from Little Rock, Ark., to Minneapolis on Oct. 14. A controller questioned the jet's model and altitude told the pilots, "I've never seen you guys up at 41 there." The crew responded, "Yeah, we're actually ... we don't have any passengers on board, so we decided to have a little fun and come up here." Minutes later, the pilots told controllers first that one and later that both engines had failed. An automatic system had attempted to lower the nose as the aircraft lost airspeed at 41,000 feet, but the pilots overrode it. The plane stalled and turbulent airflow entered the engines, according to NTSB information obtained by the New York Times. Though the NTSB noted that the aircraft had been within gliding distance of five suitable airports when the pilots were first aware of the loss of power, the aircraft did not make a runway. The pilots had attempted, but were unable, to restart either engine and crashed more than two miles short of Jefferson City, Mo., airport. They missed the houses.

Both pilots were killed when the aircraft crashed in a residential neighborhood at night -- excerpts from their last exchanges suggest they were trying for a road. According to an NTSB report quoted in The New York Times, "Investigators formed the impression that there was a sense of allure to some pilots to cruise at FL 410 just to say they had 'been there and done that.'" The airline has blamed the pilots for behaving unprofessionally and disregarding their training. The Air Line Pilots Association has said the airline's training program was inadequate and that the engines suffered "core lock" caused by differential cooling when engines are run at high thrust and suddenly shut down -- an allegation the manufacturer has rejected. The FAA issued, June 2, a Special Airworthiness Information Bulletin intended to clarify and promote successful air-restart procedures in the case of a double engine failure. According to NTSB data, "starter assist" is required to start engines at altitudes below 15,000 feet and speeds below 190 knots. The NTSB will investigate whether the aircraft's GE engines indeed suffered core lock and whether proper technique could have seen them restarted. Investigative exhibit items from the public docket are available here.