February 6, 2006
By The AVweb Editorial Staff
Ebersol Crash Summary Released
NBC Sports Chairman Dick Ebersol told NTSB investigators that "chunks of slush" slid from the top of the chartered Challenger 601 he was aboard as it tried to take off from Montrose Airport in Colorado on Nov. 28, 2004. The temperature in Montrose was just below freezing and it was snowing. Although other aircraft were being de-iced, the pilots of the Ebersol charter didn't ask for the service -- evidence suggests the crew visually checked the wings and turned the anti-ice system on. However, a switch to a 7,500-foot runway forced the pilots to change their original takeoff run calculations (from 8,000 feet) to make the numbers work. According to 180 pages of documents released by the NTSB last Thursday, the plane got briefly airborne before crashing off the end of the 7,500-foot runway, killing Ebersol's 14-year-old son Teddy, the pilot and a flight attendant. The first officer, Ebersol, and another son, Charlie (who acted to save his father and searched for his brother), were seriously injured. Cockpit voice recorder transcripts quoted in the documents show that pilot Luis A. Polanco-Espiallat and first officer Eric Wicksell both appeared to visually inspect the aircraft's wings before takeoff and that the anti-ice system had been turned on. Two months after the crash, the FAA issued a bulletin calling for a physical inspection of the wings for ice. The plane arrived that morning from Van Nuys, Calif., and Ebersol's wife, actress Susan Saint James, and another passenger got off. They initially planned to use the longer of Montrose's two runways (10,000 feet) but according to an interim factual report issued by the NTSB, the plow operator on the runway heard their radio call and reported he was working on that runway. The pilot opted for a 7,500-foot runway (it was being plowed, too, but the operator got off when he saw the plane getting ready to take off as he didn't have radio contact with the plane).
Freelance Rescue Raises Debate
Aviation safety consultants Wyvern Standard Ltd. recently performed a safety audit on the plane's operator, Air Castle Corp., and reported after the crash that pilot Polanco-Espiallat did not have the 75 hours in the previous 90 days, or the 300 hours in the previous year, that Air Castle considers minimum for its pilot in command. But the lawyer for Polanco-Espiallat's family said the pilot performed all necessary preflight procedures, including the icing check, and claimed the airplane was to blame for the crash. "It is absolutely clear that the manufacturer of this aircraft bears substantial, if not complete, responsibility for this crash," family lawyer Brian Alexander told the Denver Post. Amid the finger-pointing and legal wars emerges a story of a young man's heroism. Charlie Ebersol, then a 21-year-old Notre Dame student, escaped the wreckage only to discover the rest of his family didn't. He ignored warnings of others and (with a broken back, broken hand and a ruptured eye) ran back into the plane, spotted a tuft of his father's white hair and yanked him from under the wreckage of the galley, which had collapsed on top of him. After helping his father to safety, the young man returned to the wreckage for his 14-year-old brother Teddy, whose body was only later found underneath the plane. Flight attendant Warren Richardson III also died. Charlie Ebersol recalled the horror to a national television audience when his family appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show last week. "It is one of those moments," he told Winfrey. "They say it lasted 15 seconds -- it was hours."
A couple of good Samaritans in California are caught in that awkward maw between heroism and recklessness after some pretty interesting flying led to the rescue of two 11-year-olds last week. Using night-vision goggles, pilot David Gunsauls and helicopter owner Dan Kohrdt spotted Revina Dennis and her cousin Austin Rogers on a lava-rock-strewn hillside miles away from the ground party looking for them. Gunsauls toed the helicopter into the hillside while Korhdt pulled the kids inside. Flush with the success of the rescue, it was backslaps all around as the youngsters, who got lost while exploring the hills near Paradise, Calif., were dropped off to their families in a school playing field. It didn't take long for the local sheriff's office to distance itself from the celebration. "We did not ask for, frankly, nor did we support [the freelance operation]," Capt. Jerry Smith, head of the sheriff's department's aviation section. "That was a non-sanctioned event." His team was waiting for daylight to launch. Now, it's not that Smith is entirely heartless. He told the Paradise Post the rescue "was a very heroic thing," but he also noted that if anything had gone wrong it would have been his department held liable. "Anytime we establish a relationship with a civilian component of the community, we assume responsibility for their actions," Smith said. The helicopter was in radio contact with the ground team.
Smith said the nighttime toe-in maneuver was too risky. "I would not have allowed our pilots to do that mission," he said. Korhdt heard about the missing kids on the 11 p.m. TV news and called Gunsauls, who met him at the airport. Their Bell 407 helicopter has both night-vision equipment and forward looking infrared equipment (the sheriff's choppers have neither). They first found the searchers and then "just followed the natural lay of the land" trying to put themselves in the children's place in terms of choosing a route. They spotted the pair glowing brightly in their night-vision goggles against the dull background of the hillside and went to work. Pete Cunha, a local California Highway Patrol pilot contacted by the newspaper, also said rescuers should have left the task to experts. "It's not a game for amateurs," said Cunha. CHP has a couple of night-capable Eurocopter 305s but won't fly them in rough terrain at night. He said the authorities have to keep control of these types of operations (even if they can't or won't participate in them). "If we allowed this kind of thing to continue, for instance, could you imagine the onslaught of good-minded people wanting to become involved in uncontrolled situations?" he said, likening the incident to volunteers with hunting rifles showing up at a police standoff wanting to help. "We simply could not have that."
If all goes according to plan, the Airbus A380 will touch down on North American soil for the first time this morning but planespotters bent on sneaking a peek at the behemoth are warned to pack a pair of electric socks. The double-decker airliner is scheduled to land in Iqaluit, in the northern Canadian territory of Nunavut at about 9 a.m. EST for a week of cold-weather certification work. Iqaluit Airport Manager John Graham told AVweb that everything's in place for the historic visit, except perhaps the reason for it. "We wish it was colder," he said. Like most of North America, Iqaluit is experiencing a warmer than average winter, but warmth is a relative thing. For the past week, the temperature's been a balmy (by Nunavut standards) 10 F. For the testing, Airbus would like 25 to 30. If you've never heard of Iqualuit or Nunavut, don't feel geographically challenged (even though it occupies more than 10 percent of North America's land mass). Until 1999, it was part of the Northwest Territories and Iqaluit went by the name of Frobisher Bay. The territory, about four times the size of Texas, has only about 30,000 permanent residents and Iqaluit, its capital, is home to about 6,500. It's about 1,500 miles north of Toronto.
The forecast for Iqaluit calls for the "warm" spell to continue with temperatures in the same range as last week (but with the wind, it feels 20 degrees colder). What impact that will have on the testing isn't clear. Although aircraft routinely experience extreme cold when flying at altitude, circumstances are different on the ground. Airbus' team of 50 technicians need to see how the airplane starts, how the electronics hold up and even how interior components stand up to sitting on the ramp at 30 all night. The tests are part of the certification requirements for the aircraft, which is scheduled to go into service by the end of this year. Iqaluit is a popular destination for cold-seeking aircraft manufacturers, mainly because of its 8,600-foot runway and huge ramp area, all relics of ... the Cold War. Frobisher Bay began as a communications and radar facility during World War II before the air base was built by the U.S. to refuel ferry flights on their way from California factories to Britain. It was home to K-97 tanker aircraft used to refuel nuclear bombers during the Cold War. Airbus does most of its cold-weather work there and about a dozen other manufacturers have also tested aircraft there. Business has picked up considerably since Graham and a delegation of Nunavut officials set up a booth at last year's Paris Air Show to tout Iqaluit's combination of cold weather and aviation amenities.
As aviation groups and pilots battle it out with the federal government over 3,000 square miles of airspace around Washington, D.C. (deadline for comments on the proposal -- docket number 17005 -- to make the Air Defense Identification Zone permanent is today), the Air Force is proposing adding a 2,400-square-mile military operations area in eastern Nevada that, by some estimates, would push the total amount of Nevada airspace under some kind of restriction to about half the state. And while Nevada's sparse population and generally great flying weather makes it ideal (in military eyes) for this kind of work, there is a price to be paid for getting out of the way of low-flying jets and Nevadans may have had enough of paying it. The proposed MOA could disrupt some badly needed economic development projects in the prosperity-challenged area. The Air Force, which wants the area for F-16 pilot training when Hill AFB in Utah is testing cruise missiles, wants to put the floor of the MOA at 500 feet but the local officials of White Pine County are trying to firm up development of a couple of coal-fired power plants with smoke stacks reaching 750 feet. Also on the drawing board are a wind generation plant and power lines that could all pose hazards to the jet jockeys. Air Force spokesman Jerry Angus told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that the area would only be used eight weeks out of the year and the airspace restrictions could be adjusted to accommodate the power projects. He also said it would have minimal impact on GA operations, something questioned by Ely Airport manager Dan Callaghan. "To the general aviation pilot, the (restricted military area) looks like a no trespassing sign," Callaghan told the Review-Journal.
We'll be the first to say that flying is good therapy but as a Nebraska inmate's choice of rehabilitation the idea has raised some eyebrows. While he was still in jail, local corrections officials and the FAA allowed Barry Greg Caughlin to climb in an airplane by himself and head off into the wild blue yonder, according to a report by local NBC news. Apparently Caughlin has, to date, kept his promise to come back each time as he builds time toward his private pilot certificate. There's another twist. Caughlin's conviction, for which he has been behind bars for more than four years, is for vehicular homicide. He can't get a driver's license until 2011. The FAA says there's nothing stopping him from being a pilot and prison officials said the decision to let him go ahead was not taken lightly. Community Corrections spokesman Ryan Mahr said inmates taking part in educational release programs are carefully screened and constantly monitored. And in case Caughlin got the urge to fly the coop, Mahr noted that he's under the watchful eye of an instructor and, when flying solo, he's being tracked on radar. " We felt we could account for him while he was out of the facility on the program," Mahr said. He also submits to regular breath tests. Caughlin had been drinking when he crashed his (previous) vehicle into another, killing a man and his son in 1999. He declined to be interviewed but told reporters he's working hard to turn his life around. It's all too much for the local police chief in Elkhorn, Neb., however. Tim Dempsey told local reporters "it doesn't make sense" that Caughlin be allowed to fly when courts don't think he should be able to drive a car.
Authorities in Clarke County, Ala., are trying to determine whether a piece of metal that appears to be an aircraft wingtip found in the woods by hunters came off a Piper Saratoga that crashed near there about a week ago. They're also interested in two apparent bullet holes in the part, according to a report by the Thomasville Times. The Saratoga went down in Yellow Bluff on a flight from Natchez, Miss., to Camden, Ala., killing a passenger and injuring the pilot. The part was turned over to sheriffs who said it matched the color of the crash airplane. The plane had already been removed so the part has been turned over FAA investigators to determine if the match goes beyond paint. The sheriff's office told the Thomasville Times that further details (including, we assume, the significance or lack thereof of the bullet holes) will be released next week.
An NTSB report says a quickie repair job led to the engine failure and subsequent crash landing of a Piper PA-28 on a freeway in Concord, Calif., in April of 2004. While the pilot and his son walked away, the plane's propeller sliced through a minivan and almost severed the leg of an 11-year-old girl. According to the report, the pilot, Curt Hatch, noticed the engine running roughly on the plane, which he had rented in Colorado. A local repair facility estimated repairs would take 20 hours and the plane's owner, Kempton Air Services, sent its own mechanic to do the job. The mechanic spent three hours replacing a piston with the wrong part and, according to the NTSB, didn't go looking for pieces of the broken valve that caused the original problem. The engine ran normally during run-up but lost power just after takeoff. After the accident, NTSB investigators found the original low-compression piston was replaced with a high-compression version and there was evidence throughout the rest of the engine of damage from a foreign object, most likely the remnants of the previously swallowed exhaust valve. In October of 2004, the FAA suspended Hatch's certificate for 150 days and the mechanic's for 250 days. They appealed and an NTSB administrative judge upheld the suspensions, saying both were guilty of violating numerous regulations and behaving recklessly, according to the Contra Costa Times. They're now appealing the NTSB decision. The injured girl, Arianna Jiminez, of Danville, is still recovering from surgeries resulting from the accident and one leg is three inches shorter than the other.
A 16-year-old Tennessee boy who allegedly decided that stealing an airplane and using it to buzz a neighborhood in the pre-dawn-a.m. was a good way to settle a score with his girlfriend is being described as "a good pilot" by local police. Murfreesboro Deputy Police Chief Scott Daniel told WSMV News that he was impressed by the youth's flying ability and likened his treetop buzzing of houses and police cars to watching an air show. "We were glad he didn't get hurt or hurt anybody," added Detective Maj. Chuck Thomas. "From what everybody said, he was a skilled pilot. He kept control." It's not clear whether the boy had any flight training but he's alleged to have stolen the Piper Cherokee from nearby Shelbyville Airport after arguing with a friend over his girlfriend. After about a half hour (at about 4:30 a.m.) he landed it back at the airport and fled on foot. Police caught up to him a short time later and, at last report, he was being interviewed by FAA investigators.
News in Brief
Columbia Aircraft is in the business of selling airplanes but, until now, it concentrated those efforts, quite naturally, on selling its own Columbia 350 and 400s. However, the company has apparently come to the conclusion that many of its customers are aircraft owners looking to upgrade into one of Columbia's speedsters. So Columbia has introduced a program aimed at helping wannabe Columbia pilots quickly and painlessly sell their current steeds. They call it Flip the Bird 1,2,3 and it puts the services of some of the top names in the used airplane business at the disposal of those who want a Columbia. Once someone has made up his or her mind to buy a Columbia, the company will ship him or her an airplane detailing kit, For Sale signs and prop banners. The company will also pay for three months of classified ads in Trade-A-Plane and put the prospective Columbia owner in touch with finance, insurance, tax and aircraft brokerage experts. "Many owners are prepared to step up to a [Columbia], but first need to sell the aircraft they currently own -- so we're making it easier to do just that," said marketing director Randy Bolinger.
If you aren't among the more than 20,000 people who have opposed making the Washington ADIZ permanent, today is your last chance. The comment period ends at midnight. AOPA's ADIZ Alert can walk you through it...
Police in Vernon, British Columbia, have a suspected drug trafficker in custody and are on the trail of plane allegedly used to drop off hundreds of pounds of marijuana at a rendezvous point outside the city. The plane landed in a field near a retirement complex. Someone (perhaps one of the many retired police officers in the complex) thought it was odd and called police...
The FAA has some advicefor those who might consider a hurricane-damaged airplane a bargain. Hundreds of planes were damaged by weather in the past year and the information package put together by the agency is aimed at making sure prospective buyers get their money's worth...
NASA Inspector General Robert Cobb is under an FBI-led investigation for allegedly doing things that Inspectors General are supposed to catch others doing. Cobb is accused of failing to investigate safety violations and retaliating against whistleblowers.
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Overheard at my local 'drome this [superbowl] weekend...
N465: Ground, N465 at Pacific Aviation, VFR to the west with Victor, ready for taxi, we're going to need a progressive, please.
Ground: N465, roger. Alpha three, right Bravo, hold short 27 Right.
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Do you carry a first-aid kit in your airplane or car? AVweb's Dr. Brent Blue says drugstore first-aid kits are packed with mostly useless stuff. Dr. Blue has assembled a traveling medical kit for dealing with all sorts of medical problems, based on his long experience as an emergency room doctor, frequent traveler, pilot, outdoorsman, and dad. It would cost more than $500 to duplicate this kit, but it's available on sale from Aeromedix for $333. Order by calling (888) 362-7123, or order online.
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Since over 75% of all aviation accidents result from human error, a pilot's comprehensive understanding of risk management is essential. Do pilots become better risk managers reading NTSB accident reports and scaring themselves without learning, or listening to dusty lectures and falling asleep? Pilots who read Rod Machado's Plane Talk will not only stay awake but learn important lessons about human nature, risk, safety benefits, avoiding temptation, developing an aviation code of ethics, and more. Order online.
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