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"Panel: pilot distraction caused crash"



Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Panel: pilot distraction caused crash 
By LESLIE MILLER
The Associated Press

 
WASHINGTON (AP) - The fatal crash of a small jet owned by Circuit City
Stores Inc. was blamed on the pilots flying the airplane too slowly, the
National Transportation Safety Board ruled Tuesday.

On Feb. 16 last year, the pilots were dealing with ice on the wings and a
runway change as they approached the airport at Pueblo, Colo. The
twin-engined jet stalled and plunged into the ground, killing the two-man
crew and six passengers.

Investigators concluded the pilots failed to notice the airplane had slowed
to an unsafe speed. Board member Steven Chealander said the flight crew was
paying attention, but not to the right thing.

"I feel this was a responsible flight crew," Chealander said. "I feel they
got themselves distracted. They were just off their game."

The Cessna Citation C-560 was stopping to refuel when it crashed during a
flight from Virginia to California. Both pilots, four employees of the
electronics retailer, and two representatives of other companies died in the
crash.

There was freezing drizzle and fog in the area, and flight crews aboard
three other planes had reported icing conditions. Ice accumulating on wings
can disturb the smooth air flow needed to keep an airplane aloft.

Airplanes need to fly faster when ice accumulates on the wings, but the
Circuit City aircraft was actually decelerating. A warning system on the
airplane failed to activate in time to alert the pilots to their danger,
investigators said.

The pilots also should have activated the de-icing equipment more frequently
while they were approaching the airport, the safety board concluded.

As a result of the accident, the NTSB wants the Federal Aviation
Administration to change the standards for how pilots are trained and the
guidance they're given for icing conditions.

"The issue here is for pilots to be trained to recognize the most important
thing is always 'First, fly the airplane,'" said NTSB Chairman Mark
Rosenker.

The safety board also wants the FAA to change the standards for de-icing
equipment.

David Coffman of Richmond, Va., was one of the Circuit City employees who
perished in the crash. He left four children, now 6, 5 and twins aged 3. 
    
Coffman's wife, Tricia, said after Tuesday's NTSB hearing that she
appreciated the investigators' efforts.

"My hope is that this accident will be the one to cause the FAA to look at
the icing issues and make the proper changes," Coffman said.

FAA spokesman Les Doerr said the agency agrees with the intent of the NTSB's
safety recommendations. "We'll examine them carefully," Doerr said.

Within five months of the Circuit City crash, several other corporate
aircraft were involved in fatal accidents. Among them:

-On Oct. 24, 2004: A plane owned by the Hendrick Motorsports organization
crashed in Martinsville, Va., on its way to a NASCAR race, killing all 10
people aboard.

-On Nov. 22, 2004: Three crewmembers of a Gulfstream G1159A died after
crashing into a light pole just south of Houston Hobby airport; they were en
route to picking up former President George H.W. Bush.

-On Nov. 28, 2004: A charter plane carrying NBC Sports Chairman Dick Ebersol
crashed and burst into flames during takeoff from a southwest Colorado
airport, killing three people including Ebersol's son Teddy.

The NTSB ruled all three crashes were caused by pilot error.

Robert Breiling, a Boca Raton, Fla.-based aviation consultant, says the
accident rate for business jets is comparable to that of scheduled
airliners.

For all professionally flown business airplanes, there were four fatal
accidents in 2006, three in 2005 and five in 2004.

The number of private aircraft flown by professional pilots has been growing
fast. There were 7.9 percent more business jets in 2005 than in 2004; for
the previous four years, the fleet increased by about five to six percent
annually, Breiling said.

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