Pilots’ Failures Blamed in 2015 Crash That Killed Developers

  • NTSB concludes hearing into 2015 Akron crash that killed nine
  • Investigation highlights oversights by pilots, charter company

The pilots of a charter flight that crashed last year in Akron, Ohio, killing nine people, including seven employees of a Florida real estate development company, ignored multiple routine procedures and their company was lax in its oversight, an investigation has found.

U.S. National Transportation Safety Board investigators found multiple failures at charter company Execuflight LLC and the Federal Aviation Administration inspectors who were supposed to assure it was operating safely. The pilots made numerous mistakes during the descent, violated federal law on speed limits and should have aborted the landing because they were going too slow, the safety board concluded Tuesday.

The pilots’ failures “read like pages from a basic text for preventing accidents derived from a long history of accidents in aviation," NTSB Chairman Christopher Hart said at the meeting in Washington. “Yet these procedures and the accident lessons they represent were ignored.”

Chief Blame

The NTSB concluded the pilots -- both whom died in the crash -- were chiefly to blame, and also faulted the company’s lax policies and the FAA’s oversight. It also issued recommendations calling for better safety programs at charter companies.

The Hawker 125-700A twin-jet plane crashed about 2 miles (3.2 kilometers) from the airport in Akron after it got so slow the wings couldn’t keep it aloft and it plunged, according to the NTSB.

As they approached the airport, the crew didn’t complete check lists, used the wrong settings for wing flaps and the captain didn’t react quickly enough as the co-pilot, who was at the controls, let the plane get too slow, the safety board found.

Investigators discovered after the accident that both pilots had been fired from previous jobs for poor performance. After the captain was hired at Execuflight, he failed a test on his knowledge about minimizing errors and following procedures in the cockpit. Instead of retraining him or taking other action, the company gave him a perfect score and allowed him to fly, the investigation found.

Sloppiness

"It was infested with sloppiness," NTSB board member Robert Sumwalt said of the charter company’s operations.

Efforts to obtain a response from the Fort Lauderdale-based Execuflight by phone and e-mail were unsuccessful.

The company had “a robust safety culture” and followed proven training and standard procedures, it said in a May 20 submission to the NTSB. “Execuflight LLC has a strong safety record and is committed to continuously improving its systems and enhancing its safety culture,” the company said in the submission.

The dead were Jared Weiner, 35 and Ori Rom, 32, principals in Pebb Enterprises; and employees Diane Smoot, 50; Diana Suriel, 32; Nick Weaver, 36; Gary Shapiro, 35; and Thomas Jay Virgin, 31, according to the Sun Sentinel newspaper. Oscar Chavez was the plane’s captain and Renato Marchese was the copilot. Neither survived.

A Bloomberg News review of corporate flights last year found numerous accidents in which business aircraft pilots flouted rudimentary safety checks, worked fatiguing shifts and overlooked routine hazards. 

Previous story: As Corporate Plane Crashes Mount, Pattern of Pilot Error Emerges

The NTSB’s findings Tuesday follow similar conclusions in other recent accidents and are consistent with a business-aviation trade group’s recent study identifying widespread failure to follow checklists.

The safety board recommended that charter companies begin using a program in place at all airlines that monitors flight data to ensure pilots are complying with rules.

“Flight data monitoring can provide the fuel to drive continuous safety improvement by ensuring that a company’s safety management system is an effective set of practices, not a binder full of disregarded procedures that sits unused on a shelf,” Hart said.

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