Report details private jet’s fatal crash in Aspen
Mere seconds before a private jet’s fiery crash at Aspen-Pitkin County Airport, an air traffic controller alerted pilots to abort the landing and “go around, go around, go around” as wind gusts were topping 25 knots.
One of the pilots took heed one second later, saying “vamonos, vamonos.” It was too late, and all communications among the crew members and air traffic control ceased as the twin-engine Bombardier Challenger 600 aircraft crashed nose-down while landing at Sardy Field on Jan. 5, 2014.
Those details and others were released Wednesday in the National Transportation Safety Board’s factual report about the crash that resulted in the death of 54-year-old co-pilot Sergio Carranza Brabata, while the main pilot and crew passenger suffered severe injuries. All were from Mexico and were flying the aircraft to Aspen from Tucson, Arizona.
The NTSB will issue its final determination on the likely cause of the accident within three months, agency spokesman Peter C. Knudson said.
“We have had investigations last up to two to three years,” he said, noting the average probes take about one year. “Sometimes these accident investigations can be complex, and we might be waiting on the results of a single or several tests, which can take a while.”
That day’s gusty winds are strong indicators that weather, combined with the pilot’s error in judgment, were likely causes of the crash.
“The weather at the time of the accident was near or in exceedence of the aircraft’s maximum tailwind and crosswind component for landing,” noted a performance study accompanying the report.
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
The report includes the NTSB’s transcript of the pilots’ discussion that was taken from the aircraft’s cockpit voice recorder. The transcript, which translates from Spanish to English, does not identify the pilots by their names.
Less than four minutes before the plane crashed, one pilot said, “And the wind (expletive deleted) it’s 26 knots mother (expletive deleted). Eh. Soon through the mountains to see if they’ll alleviate.” Another pilot replied, “Don’t worry.”
But less than 30 seconds before the accident, their worries grew. “(Expletive deleted) winds are screwed,” a pilot said. And 10 seconds before the crash, another one said, “No, no. Be careful. We’re not going.”
The pilots could have safely aborted the approach, which they began 9 miles from the airport, under select conditions, the performance study said.
“Assuming the crew had control of the aircraft, engines were advanced to the appropriate climb setting, anti-ice was off and tailwinds were less than a sustained 25 knots, the aircraft could have continued along the runway heading and completed a go-round, clearing the local obstacles along that path,” the study said.
Dozens of commercial and private aircraft had taken off from and landed that day at the airport, which closed after the crash and did not reopen until Jan. 7.
Witnesses had reportedly said the jet caught fire, rolled along the east-west runway and then came to a rest upside down.
The twin-engine Bombardier Challenger 600 was manufactured in 1994, registered to the Bank of Utah trustee and operated by Panama-based Vineland Corp. Co.
Pilot had little experience flying Challenger
The lead pilot, Moises Carranza Brabata, the deceased co-pilot’s brother, had more that 17,000 hours of flying time, including 8,000 hours on three different Airbus models.
Yet his time flying a Challenger was limited.
He received a “satisfactory” rating for his training to pilot the Challenger aircraft Nov. 9, 2013, less than two months before the Aspen crash. His total flight time on the Challenger was 10 to 12 hours, which consisted of his training time as well as flights from Dallas to Toluca, Mexico; and a round-trip flight between Toluca to Eagle County Airport, according to the NTSB.
The deceased co-pilot had registered 20,398 total flights hours, with 31 hours in the six months before the crash. The report did not note if he had any experience flying a Challenger.
The report described the passenger, Miguel Henriquez, as an “experienced pilot” of the Challenger aircraft who also knew the pilots. The two pilots invited him to join them on the flight to “provide any recommendations” because of the “special conditions” at the Aspen airport, which sits 7,820 feet above sea level.
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.
Airport changed wind reporting practice
On Jan. 11, 2014, less than a week after the crash, Aspen’s air traffic control changed its policy on providing wind data to pilots, the report said.
Previously, the air traffic controllers’ practice was to update pilots with two-minute average wind data from what’s called an Automated Surface Observing System. That was changed to one minute following the crash, although at the time of the accident, air traffic controllers gave the pilots the one-minute average, the NTSB said.
“While the local controller provided the one-minute wind average to the accident flight crew during arrival, the procedure in place at the time of the accident was to provide the most current wind data from the (Automated Surface Observing System), a two-minute average wind data.”
John Kinney joined the airport as its director 11 months after the crash. He is familiar with details of the accident, saying the “primary reason for the crash was wind.”
The NTSB investigation, he said, was on par with other accident probes it conducts, he said.
“They are so thorough with their analyses that very, very often, it becomes new practices (by an airport),” he said.