Air Charter Executives Face Criminal Charges In 2005 Crash

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Six executives who ran Platinum Jet Management, based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., are facing federal criminal charges in connection with the crash of a Bombardier Challenger CL-600 that ran off the departure end of a Teterboro, N.J., runway in February 2005, the New Jersey Star Ledger reported on Wednesday. The airplane crashed through a fence, crossed a highway, then hit a building. Four people -- the two pilots and two people in a car -- were seriously hurt and the nine others on board as well as one person on the ground also were injured. In court documents cited by the Star Ledger, federal authorities said company officials falsified flight records, routinely overloaded planes with fuel, and misrepresented the company to customers as a certified charter operation. "The fuel loading was the primary contributing factor in the crash," acting U.S. Atty. Ralph Marra Jr. told the Star Ledger. "It is astounding -- and criminal -- that owners and operators of jet aircraft would repeatedly engage in such a dangerous game with passengers and airplanes loaded to the brim with jet fuel. What this indictment alleges is an anything-goes attitude by the defendants to get their planes in the air and maximize profits without regard to passenger safety or compliance with basic regulations." According to the indictment, the Star Ledger says, Platinum instructed its pilots to falsify weight-and-balance graphs, and flew more than 25 commercial charter flights with weights that exceeded aircraft center of gravity limits.

In its final report on the accident, posted in November 2006, the NTSB said the jet was not within weight-and-balance limits and the center of gravity was well forward of the forward takeoff limit, which prevented the airplane from rotating. Neither pilot properly checked the weight and balance before takeoff, said the NTSB. According to the Star Ledger, the indictment charges Michael Brassington, 35, the president, CEO, chief pilot and co-founder of Platinum Jet; his brother, Paul Brassington, 29, a vice president and co-founder of Platinum Jet; Andre Budhan, 42, a managing member and co-founder of Platinum Jet; Joseph Singh, 37, the director of charters for the company; Brien McKenzie, 42, Platinum Jet's director of maintenance; and Francis Vieira, 59, a Platinum Jet pilot. The pilots who were in the cockpit on the day of the crash were not charged.