UPS Contract Plane Crash Lands in West Virginia, Killing Two

  • Surveillance video showed plane slamming down on its side
  • Plane slid down embankment after its left wing broke off

Part of a cargo plane lays on the ground following a fatal crash at Yeager Airport in Charleston, W. Virginia, on May 5, 2017.

Photographer: Ben Queen/AP Images

Two crew members died when a small cargo plane carrying packages for United Parcel Service Inc. slammed wing-first onto a West Virginia runway and skidded down a ravine.

A surveillance video at Yeager Airport in Charleston, West Virginia, showed the Short 330 twin turboprop coming down on its left side Friday morning, Kanawha County commissioner Ben Salango said. Investigators with the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board have the recordings and will review them, the agency said via Twitter.

“It appeared that the left wing and the left side of the plane hit the runway first,” said Salango, who viewed the video. “The left wing detached and then he slid over the hillside on the left side of the runway.”

The plane was operated by Air Cargo Carriers under contract to UPS, said Terri Peterson, a human-resources executive at the Milwaukee-based company. It had departed Louisville, Kentucky, at 5:31 a.m EDT and crashed in Charleston at about 6:53 a.m.

The plane appeared to touch down unusually close to the beginning of the runway, Salango said. It traveled about a third of the way down the 6,802-foot (2,073 meter) landing strip before veering off and falling down a hillside, Mike Plante, a spokesman for the airport, said in an interview.

Odd Angle

While Salango said the video gave no indication as to the cause of the crash, the plane clearly came in at “a very odd angle.” At least two cameras captured the plane’s arrival, one showing it shortly before it reached the runway and another photographing the crash.

“The bank was severe enough that a lay person such as myself could take notice that it didn’t look right,” he said.

NTSB’s investigator-in-charge, Bill English, said at a press conference Friday night the video would be collected along with other records from the airport and the cargo carrier. Issues the investigators will examine include how the crew operated, how the plane functioned, weather, and the actions of air-traffic controllers, English said according to the agency’s Twitter feed.

Crashes that occur during approach and landing are the most common, accounting for 65 percent, according to a study released in March by the nonprofit Flight Safety Foundation.

The NTSB sent a team of six investigators to the scene, spokesman Chris O’Neil said. UPS is attempting to learn more about the situation, a company spokesman said in an emailed statement.

Landing Site

The Charleston airport is built on a plateau about three miles (4.8 kilometers) from the city and is as much as 350 feet above the surrounding terrain, according to an NTSB report on a 2010 accident there.

The left wing of the Air Cargo Carriers plane broke off and came to rest on grass next to the runway. The rest of the aircraft went down a steep wooded hillside, falling 75 to 125 feet, according to Plante. The terrain made it difficult for emergency crews to reach the aircraft, he said. There was no fire, he said. 

Winds were light and there were scattered clouds at the time of Friday’s accident, according to the airport’s weather station.

In the previous accident, a Bombardier Inc. CRJ-200 regional jet operating as a US Airways Express flight almost went off an embankment at the end of a runway after aborting a takeoff attempt on Jan. 19, 2010. The plane, carrying 34 people, was saved from a far more severe outcome by a bed of concrete foam at the end of the runway designed to crush under the weight of the wheels and slow a plane. It stopped the jet before it went over the ledge, according to NTSB.

Proper Setup

Many accidents on approach and landing occur because pilots attempt to land without being properly set up for touchdown, such as flying too fast or descending too steeply, according to the Flight Safety Foundation study.

The study analyzed flight records and found that pilots who adhered to near-universal policies to abort a landing if they aren’t properly set up would have prevented the vast majority of such crashes, or 83 percent.

However, the commercial aviation industry has an “extremely poor” record of following this guidance. Pilots only opt to abort a landing 3 percent of the time when they aren’t properly lined up for landing, a situation known as an “unstabilized approach,” the study found.

In addition to its own fleet of planes, UPS hires about 300 aircraft from vendors around the world to supplement its shipping business, according to Jim Mayer, spokesman for UPS Airlines.

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