NTSB concludes winds, pilot error led to fatal crash at Aspen-Pitkin County Airport
While high winds have been attributed to a fatal airplane crash on the runway of Aspen-Pitkin County Airport more than three years ago, the experience of the pilots onboard also has been cited as a factor.
That’s according to the National Transportation Safety Board’s final report issued last week regarding the private twin-engine Bombardier Challenger 600 aircraft that crashed nose-down while attempting to land at the Aspen airport Jan 5, 2014. Killed was 54-year-old copilot Sergio Carranza Brabata. The main pilot and crew passenger suffered severe injuries. All three were from Mexico. Nobody else was on board the flight, which originated in Tucson, Arizona.
The NTSB’s 20-page report boils down the probable cause of the accident into one paragraph: “The flight crew’s failure to maintain airplane control during landing following an unstabilized approach. Contributing to the accident were the flight crew’s decision to land with a tailwind above the airplane’s operating limitations and their failure not to conduct a go-around when the approach became unstabilized.”
In October, the NTSB’s factual report theorized that strong gusts and the pilot’s judgment error were the likely causes of the crash, which occurred in broad daylight as travelers and others at the airport witnessed the event. The final report offered a similar conclusion.
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“The weather at the time of the accident was near or in exceedance of the airplane’s maximum tailwind and crosswind components for landing, as published in the airplane flight manual,” the final report states.
The aircraft’s flight manual said the maximum tailwind for taking off and landing was 10 knots, the NTSB reported. And while the pilots were aware of the windy conditions — they aborted their initial approach because of the strong gusts — one of them suggested that the winds might not be as strong closer to the ground.
That decision proved ultimately fatal, and a NTSB transcript of the pilots’ discussion, taken from the aircraft’s cockpit voice recorder, indicates the stress they were feeling at the time.
Less than 30 seconds before the accident, one of the pilots said: “(Expletive) winds are screwed.” Ten seconds before the crash, another one said, “No, no. Be careful. We’re not going.”
The transcript does not identify the pilots by name.
Skies and visibility were clear that day with wind gusts as high as 25 knots near the time of the accident, the report says.
Neither pilot Moises Carranza Brabata nor the copilot Brabata had what the NTSB determined adequate flight time in the CL-600 plane, the report said. The sole passenger, an experienced CL-600 pilot, was brought along to “provide guidance during the approach to the destination airport.”
Had the two Brabata pilots, who were brothers, been more experienced in a CL-600, “additional flight time would have increased the crew’s familiarity with the airplane and its limitation and likely improved their decision-making during the unstabilized approach,” the final report says.
A toxicology examination, which a division of the Federal Aviation Administration performed on the deceased crew member, showed he tested negative for alcohol, drugs and carbon monoxide, the report said. The head pilot and passenger were not tested, the report said.
The 1994-made aircraft, registered under the ownership of Utah Bank Trustee, was totaled. It had substantial damage to both of its wings, fuselage, right flap and right main landing gear.
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