NTSB: Pilots were warned of wind shear before skidding off Aspen runway
Air-traffic controllers warned pilots of low-level wind shear 10 minutes before a corporate jet skidded off an Aspen runway three summers ago.
The National Transportation Safety Board released its factual report June 4, nearly three years after the June 7, 2012, accident at Aspen Pitkin-County Airport. The Learjet 60’s two pilots, six passengers and two dogs evacuated the aircraft’s main cabin door uninjured.
Skies and visibility were clear that day with wind gusts as high as 18 knots near the time of the mishap, the report says. Ten minutes before the aircraft skidded off the runaway, air-traffic control informed pilots that a Citation aircraft had “landed about 10 minutes prior and reported low-level wind shear with a 15-knot speed,” the report says.
“Low-level wind shear is a sudden, drastic change in wind speed and/or direction over a very small area,” the report says. “Wind shear can subject an aircraft to violent updrafts and downdrafts as well as abrupt changes to the horizontal movement of the aircraft.”
The report says pilots used a “too-steep approach” when landing the aircraft, and their attempted “go-around” was unsuccessful. A go-around is when a landing is aborted on an aircraft’s final approach.
“Close to touchdown, with airspeed decreasing and responding to the calls from the captain for ‘power,’ the first officer advanced power slightly,” the report says. “Airspeed continued to decrease and the captain called for a ‘go-around,’ but the first officer did not add power for a go-around, and the captain did not take control of the airplane.
“When the airplane was about 30 feet above ground level both pilots reported the airplane suddenly ‘stopped flying’ with a simultaneous slight left roll and an immediate impact with terrain.”
The jet had about 185 gallons of fuel at the time of the accident, prompting airport emergency responders to spray fire-suppressing foam at the site. The runway was closed for about four hours.
The aircraft was Aspen-bound from Miami.
“The airport is very happy everybody walked away from that accident,” said Dustin Havel, assistant aviation director of operations and facilities, at the Aspen airport. “And we really appreciated the quick response of fire, rescue and mutual aid partners.”
The crash left the aircraft with substantial damage to both of its wings, fuselage, right flap and right main landing gear, the report says. The aircraft was registered under the ownership of Delaware-based Performance Aircraft Leasing.
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State department of transportation crews are well on their way to clearing Highway 82 to Independence Pass, which should open on schedule May 27 at noon.