Pilots on Katz Plane Mentioned Control Issue Before Crash

Pilots on the Gulfstream IV jet carrying sports-franchise mogul Lewis Katz discussed a control issue with the aircraft just before their fatal attempt to take off from a Massachusetts runway last week, investigators said.

The twin-engine jet didn’t lift off even though it reached a speed of 190 miles (306 kilometers) an hour and one of the pilots made the routine call to pull up the plane’s nose, Luke Schiada, a senior air safety investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board, said at a briefing yesterday.

The plane instead went off the runway, skidded across a paved safety zone and slid about 2,000 feet (610 meters) through a field before coming to rest in a river bed. The cockpit voice recorder recovered from the wreckage “captured comments concerning aircraft control,” said Schiada, who declined to elaborate, as the investigation continues.

Much of the plane, made by a unit of General Dynamics Corp., was destroyed by burning fuel. All seven people aboard died.

The speed the plane reached explains why it traveled so far off the runway, said John Cox, chief executive officer of industry consultant Safety Operating Systems. The speed was reported by Schiada in aeronautical terminology at 165 knots.

“At 165 knots, that airplane will fly,” Cox said in an interview. “Something’s wrong there.”

Investigators will want to determine whether there were mechanical problems with the plane’s control surfaces and that the pilots’ pre-takeoff preparations were correct, he said.

Seasoned Pilots

The Gulfstream IV attempted to depart from Hanscom Field on May 31 at 9:40 p.m. for Atlantic City, New Jersey. The weather was clear and winds were calm at the time of the accident, according to a weather station at the airport.

The business jet was being flown by Captain James McDowell, 51, of Georgetown, Delaware, and co-pilot Michael De Vries, 45, of Marlton, New Jersey, according to the Middlesex District Attorney’s office.

Both pilots had more than 10,000 hours of flight experience, Schiada said June 2. That is the equivalent of a veteran airline crew member.

The plane had two recorders, one capturing cockpit sounds and another storing information about the flight and mechanical systems. Forty-nine seconds transpired from when the plane began moving down the runway to when the cockpit recorder failed, Schiada said yesterday.

Both the brakes and the thrust reversers, which use engine power to slow down, were activated, the data recorder showed. Runway tire marks also suggest the plane was trying to stop.

Safety Record

The Gulfstream IV, which went out of production in 2002, is part of the most popular family of large business jets, according to JetNet LLC, a Utica, New York-based aviation research company. The plane has a cabin capable of holding as many as 16 passengers and can fly non-stop across the country, according to Gulfstream’s website.

There are 827 G-IVs and similar models in service, according to JetNet.

The family of aircraft had only three fatal accidents prior to the latest crash, according to Robert Breiling, a consultant who tracks corporate-jet safety. The accident rate, including fatal and less serious crashes, was 1.7 per million flight hours from 2009 through 2013, less than half the total for all corporate aircraft, Breiling said.

Katz had flown to Bedford to attend an event at the Concord, Massachusetts, home of Richard Goodwin and historian Doris Kearns Goodwin. Katz, a lawyer and businessman who through the years owned the New Jersey Nets basketball team, New Jersey Devils hockey team and ran a billboard company and parking-lot operator, won control of the Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper and its sister publication at a court-ordered auction four days before the crash. He was 72.

The other passengers were Susan Asbell, 67, of Cherry Hill, New Jersey; Marcella Dalsey, 59, of Williamstown, New Jersey, and Anne Leeds of Longport, New Jersey. A flight attendant, Teresa Ann Benhoff, 48, of Easton, Maryland, was also aboard, according to the district attorney’s office.

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