NTSB Releases Preliminary Report On Truckee Challenger Crash


The National Transportation Safety Board released its preliminary report on the July 26 fatal crash of a Challenger CL600-2B16 on approach to Truckee-Tahoe Airport (KTRK) in California. The twinjet was destroyed and all six on board died after the crew lost control on a circling approach in marginal VFR conditions, largely due to smoke from wildfires in the area. The flight originated in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.

According to the report, after descending below 26,000 feet the crew was advised to expect the RNAV (GPS) approach to Runway 20 at Truckee, which the pilots accepted, but requested to circle to land on Runway 11, despite winds from the northwest creating a downwind-landing condition for that runway. ATC advised the crew they were number two to land and instructed them to hold north of ALVVA waypoint, the initial approach fix for the Runway 20 procedure.

After the flight left the holding pattern, ATC canceled radar services and, at the LUMMO waypoint about 9.6 miles from the airport, the flight crew contacted the tower at TRK, which offered the option of crossing over the airport and entering a left downwind for Runway 29. Instead, the crew chose to enter a left base leg for Runway 11 and reported the runway in sight. That was the last radio communication from the flight.

ADS-B data shows the Challenger overshot the runway centerline and was attempting to bank back toward the airport. Witnesses and surveillance videos show the aircraft maneuvering erratically and finally crashing between a golf course and a residential area.

The NTSB report concludes with: “The FDR [flight data recorder] and CVR [cockpit voice recorder] were recovered and were successfully read out by the NTSB’s Vehicle Recorder Lab, and the data is being analyzed.”

Mark Phelps
Mark Phelps is a senior editor at AVweb. He is an instrument rated private pilot and former owner of a Grumman American AA1B and a V-tail Bonanza.

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  1. All too often, you read about a small-plane pilot who overshoots final, gets too slow, cross-controls while overbanking to try to get back to the centerline, and ends up in an unrecoverable stall-spin. It’s basically the prototypical accident which every pilot is taught to avoid, but some still manage to do it.

    You don’t expect to see that sort of tragic accident from what should be a more professional and experienced crew flying a Challenger, but it sure looks like that’s what happened here. There’s similarly no obvious explanation why the pilots chose to land on 11 instead of 29, which the winds favored.

    I know we shouldn’t speculate, but it seems as if articles like this one are designed to encourage exactly that – and I hate that it seems like this accident, like so many others, was completely avoidable.

    • > There’s similarly no obvious explanation why the pilots chose to land on 11 instead of 29, which the winds favored.

      David, if you look at the approach plate for the RNAV Rwy 20 it prohibits circling south of Rwy 29 and east of Rwy 2 for CAT C. The pilot had the option to cancel IFR and fly a VFR approach once he had the airport in sight, but it could be he was reluctant given the visibility.

      • As has been mentioned elsewhere, let’s not forget that a CL600 belongs in the Cat D circling minimums column and thus ANY circling clearence for this approach was accepted in error. Previous aircraft had to ask a few times for the straight in and was eventually granted it. Sad.

      • Or, they could have insisted on the RNAV 11, with an MDA only 20 feet higher than the CAT C CTL MDA on the RNAV 20. With the RNAV 11 they could have landed on 11, or if the wind favored 29, fly right-hand CTL for 29.

        • I don’t think landing on 29 would have worked due to terrain. Note there are no IFR approaches for 29. Don’t know performance numbers for a Challenger 605 so I don’t know if a straight in RNAV 11 would work either. 30C+ temps at 5900ft sets up a pretty high density altitude for only 7000ft long runway, especially with a tailwind.

          • NetJets uses 29 all the time. They developed a CVFP for 29, which is posted on the airport’s website. Also, CTL from RNAV 11 to 29 is authorized for right traffic. New CAT C radii for TRK is 3.28 n.m.

    • It seems to me that many pilots have difficulty keeping basic aerodynamics in mind – greater bank angle requires more lift so speed is essential to prevent stalling.

      A different scenario occurs in BC, when a pilot finds herself in a blind canyon and stalls in turning around with side terrain large in the window.

      (The COPA convention in Red Deer AB taught a technique on top of careful navigation – cross a ridge at an angle to give you more time to check that is the valley you really want to go into.

      Which reminds me of flying with a bush pilot in NW ON and NE MB in a small twin, he periodically checked the map versus view out the side window despite having good navigation equipment – to me just water and trees, but he was practiced at reading the pattern.

    • Dave, you mentioned cross control. To me, that means using rudder in opposition to aileron – like slipping.
      Did you mean that in your comment?

      • I would guess he means skidding, in other words putting in too much rudder in the direction of the turn.

  2. I teach that when you are overshooting final from base to not increase your bank angle, just hold what you have and keep on turning. You will eventually intercept the extended runway centerline. At that time you can decide if you have enough room and time to get the approach stabilized or go around. I am not a turbine pilot but it seems here they overshot and then cranked the bank up to try and stay on the centerline. Sadly it appears just as with small GA they stalled to low to recover and everyone perished.

    • This sometimes works on an airplane with 80-90 knot approach speed but will not work with 120-140 knot approach speeds. By the time you get things straightened out at 120+kts you run out of runway to land. Things go by pretty quick at 120+kts on approach.

  3. For those of you who have flown into KTRK IFR you understand the challenges of the approaches. In a year or so the NTSB will share the rest of the story with all of us. The CVR, and the NTSB report, will probably confirm your suspicions. No doubt the accident was caused by a series of bad discussions and perhaps equally bad company policy.

    The greater question is how to prevent accidents such as this one. The airlines have been successful in eliminating fatal accidents because they have CRM, Safety Management Systems, and they live in a safety culture. Not only does the airline Captain have a “no” button so does the entire crew and dispatchers.

    For GA to have equal (safety) footing with the airline industry I have proposed PRM (Passenger, People, Public Resource Management) to the FAA and AOPA Air Safety. Train the public, families, passengers enough to make a personal decision. King’s, Jeppesen, Sporty’s, AOPA, the FAA and others are experts at creating such professional training videos. The market target for such a training program is anyone with a connection to GA or anyone that has the potential to be viewed, or viewing, in a funeral home as a result of an aircraft accident.

    In addition to improving safety in GA, a PRM program will increase interest in our passion of flying. Once the public gets involved they will want to learn more. Secondly in 10 years or less the public will be traveling in fully autonomous drones. The regs will require that they have some training such as drone pilots do today. So….let’s get started now….why wait?

    There are many links in a chain that causes accidents such as this one in KTRK. What if one or all of the passengers on this flight said something along these lines “we must land a Truckee, Reno is not an option today”. In contrast what if a passenger knew enough to say “hey I see it is really smoky at Truckee, we don’t need to land there. We can go to Reno”.

    Take a look at Cirrus accident N733CD, accident # CEN20LA379, September 4, 2020. This is a more typical GA accident that was totally preventable. 7 year old Gavin, his mom, his grandpa, his father were all snuffed out because no one used a “no” button. You can see how easily this accident could have been prevented had mom and grandpa had just a little bit of aviation education. “Honey you worked 15 hours today, you are tired and fatigue makes for bad decisions, let’s go in the morning, I insist”. 7 year old children are dependent on, and put 100% trust in, their parents. Gavin’s last words (as his father drove into a severe TRW) were likely “daddy what’s wrong. Daddy I am scared. Daddy I don’t want to die”.

    PRM is the next natural step in the evolution of air transportation and air safety. Granted PRM, educating so many people, is a monumental task. Not all pilots accepted CRM at first. Not all will accept PRM. I get it.

    • Interesting idea. This might work when passengers are family. Problem is that a lot of persons who have enough money to own a jet or can charter one have a tendency to demand getting to that destination no matter what and usually have no knowledge of the risks involved with mountain airports. The Aspen Gulfstream accident around 15 years ago is a perfect example. Fortunately my company President is pretty good at filtering out those types of clients and will not do business with them. I also after 20+ years of pt135 experience am not afraid to say unable if the performance numbers for the airplane and weather don’t work. I fear this accident might turn into another “aspen”, of course we won’t know for sure until the NTSB releases the CVR transcripts and their final report.

      • Matt and Kieth,

        I remember the Aspen accident very well. We don’t need to go back that far tho. How about the Kobe Bryant accident? The Bryant, Aspen, Truckee accidents have been reoccurring since the Wright Brothers and Sikorsky invented these earth-defying contraptions that we all love.

        We have volumes of regulations (penned in blood from previous accidents) written to prevent such accidents. So we know that more regulations won’t prevent these repetitive dumb pilot decisions. We need a different course of action.

        I have been flying for 53 years, 40 of those years in 135. My conclusion is simple. None of us are exempt from these human factors related accidents and it doesn’t matter what part we are flying under. All of us are human, and all of us can make stupid decisions (that many not seem stupid at the time). So how do we mitigate the risk of such an occurrence is the question?

        121 broke the code as a result of a long history of horrific accidents. The two airline accidents that changed the trajectory of airline safety were the United DC-8 accident at Portland and the Colgan accident at Buffalo. 121 broke the code because they gave more people in the loop the “no” button. They encouraged and demanded that everyone work together (CRM) without taking the final authority away from the Captain. 91 and 135 should learn from the 121 success story. The safety success of 121 is irrefutable. Hence the reason I am proposing PRM (Passenger, Public, People Resource Management) for 91 and 135. If you think PRM is a crazy idea, think about how crazy CRM must have sounded to veteran airline crews when they first heard about it.

        No matter how far you have gone down the wrong road….turn around.

        God bless.

    • In some cases the F/O should have used a NO button, such as First Air B737 into Resolute Bay in the High Arctic. (A/P flipped into heading hold mode while turning to capture localizer, Captain ignored indications and alerts and F/O.)

      In contrast, in eastern Canada an F/O pushed hard on the brakes just as the Captain started the takeoff roll.
      F/O saw that compass heading did not match runway heading.
      His first trip into the area of compass unreliability, he’d forgotten that they’d set compasses to True as they needed that later in the flight.
      Company did not fire him.

    • Jeff,

      Agree wholeheartedly with your proposals, however as we know some people and organizations fear change. Incompetence and lack of leadership gave us the “graveyard mentality” in aviation until the airlines got it right because their income was at risk due to flying public safety risk.
      As a GA CFI, I saw pilots literally killing their friends and families and everyone around considered the killings “unfortunate accidents”.
      So I always involved the loved ones, proposing for the spouse to learn the basics so they can assist in flying workload. Ladies loved the idea and they became part of CRM.
      Rusty pilots who came to me for “just” a Flight Review after 20+ years of absence from the controls expected to get a sign off….no safety in mind….
      One such pilot revealed to me that he was a member of a pilot group who flew carelessly for fun.
      We agreed that he needs to get not just current but proficient as well, he was planning to fly the grandkids and his wife who was always with him for the lessons reading a book as she was waiting.
      She was present during briefings / debriefings and soon she started feeling comfortable making comments and revelations about his past unsafe flying. He thought that she was breaking the deal for him because I might not sing him off in a hurry. ” You don’t know my wife….she is polite with you but….” My answer was that, -I can see what a pilot needs to be proficient and safe so we are working towards that goal, do you agree that your grandkids deserve safety ? YES !!!
      Soon the spouse became part of the Safety Team and I was confident that she was briefing the extended family. I knew the pilot was feeling uncomfortable about the new Safety Team in the family but soon he accepted the facts after reading NTSB reports.
      Very powerful tool is the involvement of the potential innocent victims, they deserve to be heard even if they are just uncomfortable during flying.
      At CAP, any member on board has the responsibility to speak up and the PIC must act in favor of Safety.
      Fly safe, respect every life and property on the ground !!!

  4. KTRA is a tricky airport to fly into and out of under various circumstances, differences in runway length v. wind direction and mountain obstructions, mountain waves, relatively high altitude, variable winds etc. This was all made much worse due to intense smoke from ground level up to several thousand feet with exceeding poor visibility, I was just there and it has been really bad for several weeks! The crew overshot the runway probably because they did not really see it clearly in time to manage the decent and speed. The obvious thing they should have done was divert to Reno/Tahoe RNO that lies just a few miles east on flat ground, lower altitude, good instrument approaches, and long runways, even though it was smoky there too.