NTSB Finds Pilots At Fault In Citation Crash

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The NTSB met on Wednesday to discuss the results of its investigation into the crash of a Cessna Citation 550 in June 2007 and laid the blame squarely in the lap of the pilots. The jet had just taken off from Milwaukee, carrying a medical team with a human organ for transplant. Shortly after takeoff, the captain had trouble controlling the airplane, and the crew was trying to return to the airport when the jet crashed into Lake Michigan, killing all six on board. The safety board investigators said they didn't have enough information to say for sure what happened -- it might have been a runaway trim or the inadvertent engagement of the autopilot, rather than the yaw damper, at takeoff -- but in either case, the crew's failure to respond adequately was the cause of the accident. "Regardless of the initiating event, if the pilots had simply maintained a reduced airspeed while they responded to the situation, the aerodynamic forces on the airplane would not have increased significantly; at reduced airspeeds, the pilots should have been able to maintain control of the airplane long enough to either successfully troubleshoot and resolve the problem or return safely to the airport," the board said in its synopsis. The NTSB released an animation of the crash sequence.

The board said the first officer had poor flying skills and was inadequately trained, and the captain, who was also the chief pilot for the charter operator, contributed to the development of an "inadequate safety culture" at the company. The board also noted a number of contributing issues that it would like to see addressed, such as better oversight by the FAA of safety protocols at charter companies, better design for circuit breaker panels, and upset recovery training for flight crews. As an interim measure (pending an available aileron trim system retrofit), Cessna should notify Citation pilots and operators of the potential hazards related to the sensitivity and responsiveness of the airplane's aileron trim system, the board said. The board posted online the docket of documents and the PowerPoint presentations used in Wednesday's meeting.

A lawyer for the first officer's widow told the Detroit Free Press that it wasn't reasonable to think the pilots could have recovered from the situation at such a low altitude. Marlin Air, the charter operator, did not immediately respond to the Free Press's request for comment. The University of Michigan, which had chartered the aircraft, said in a statement: "We hope that this review will help prevent such incidents around the country so that no other medical institution, and no other families, will have to face such a loss."