Details are still sketchy after a fatal midair collision today (Dec. 21) between a Martinaire Cessna 208B Grand Caravan cargo plane and what is initially being reported as a “paraglider.” According to FlightAware data, the Caravan departed from George Bush Intercontinental/Houston Airport (KIAH) at 9:11 am local time, headed for Victoria Regional Airport (KVCT)—a planned 39-minute flight to the southwest. Three minutes after reaching 4,800 feet at 9:22, the track shows a steep descent beginning near the Brazos River, over the town of Fulshear, Texas, where the wreckage of the Caravan came to rest. Both pilots were killed.
The FlightAware history on the Caravan shows regular daily round-trip flights between Victoria Regional Airport and KIAH.
Given the elevation in the area (less than 100 feet mean sea level) and the Caravan’s reported altitude, it’s possible that it was actually a powered parachute, or possibly an ultralight with a ballistic parachute, involved in the collision. That victim’s body was found some five kilometers south of the Caravan’s wreckage, according to the early reports from the Texas Department of Public Safety – Southwest Region.
This story will be updated as more information comes out.
Update (December 23):
The Fort Bend County (Texas) Medical Examiner’s Office has identified the pilot of the Cessna Grand Caravan as Robert Steven Gruss, 35. The pilot of the other aircraft has not yet been identified. Television news reports are now showing that the second victim’s body was found near the crash site of the Caravan, while the wreckage of the second aircraft and what appears to be a recovery parachute were found four miles to the south.
Just before the collision, Air Traffic Control audio recorded Gruss asking for confirmation of his altitude assignment of 5,000 feet “for opposite direction traffic.” The controller responded, “I’ll have higher in just a bit here,” subsequently clearing the flight to 6,000 feet, but getting no further response from Gruss. The collision site appears to be in Class E airspace, west of the Houston Class B.
A statement from UPS confirmed that the Martinaire-operated Caravan was carrying UPS packages under contract.