• A Strange Tale

In the Navy, tales are often prefaced with the statement, “This is a no-shit story,” which of course immediately makes its voracity suspect. This, however, is not such a story. While I can’t personally vouch for all the details, I can say that these are the facts as I know them unless stated otherwise. Those facts that I can’t speak for are from sources I trust completely.

Part The First

A Cessna Citation crashed January 24th, 2006 at Palomar Airport (KCRQ sometimes also referred to as CLD) killing three people and the pilot. The NTSB report reads as follows:

NARRATIVE: Citation N86CE departed Sun Valley (SUN) at 05:50 MST on a flight to Carlsbad (CLD). The airplane climbed to its assigned cruising altitude of FL380, which was reached at about 06:06 MST. The descend for Carlsbad was started an hour later, at 06:06 PST. Air traffic control cleared the flightcrew for the ILS approach to runway 24, which was 4,897 feet long. The flightcrew then reported that they had the runway in sight, cancelled their IFR clearance, and executed a VFR approach in VFR conditions to the airport. The reported winds favored a landing toward the east, onto the opposite runway (runway 6). During the approach, after a query from the first officer, the captain indicated to the first officer that he was going to "...land to the east," consistent with the reported winds. However, the final approach and subsequent landing were made to runway 24, which produced a six-knot tailwind. During the approach sequence the captain maintained an airspeed that was approximately 30 knots higher than the correct airspeed for the aircraft's weight, resulting in the aircraft touching down about 1,500 feet further down the runway than normal, and much faster than normal. The captain then delayed the initiation of a go-around until the first officer asked if they were going around. Although the aircraft lifted off the runway surface prior to departing the paved overrun during the delayed go-around it impacted a localizer antenna platform, whose highest non-frangible structure was located approximately 304 feet past the end of the runway, and approximately two feet lower than the terrain at the departure end of the runway. The aircraft continued airborne as it flew over downsloping terrain for about 400 more feet before colliding with the terrain and a commercial storage building that was located at an elevation approximately 80 feet lower than the terrain at the end of the runway. The localizer antenna platform was located outside of the designated runway safety area, and met all applicable FAA siting requirements. PROBABLE CAUSE: "The captain's delayed decision to execute a balked landing (go-around) during the landing roll. Factors contributing to the accident include the captain's improper decision to land with a tailwind, his excessive airspeed on final approach, and his failure to attain a proper touchdown point during landing."

A friend, who is also a United 757 pilot, watched the landing from a passenger seat on a commuter airliner as he headed for LAX before a flight to Singapore. Sitting on the right side of the aircraft, he watched a Citation ”dive bomb the approach lights,” and noted that it seemed extremely fast as it crossed the threshold. The commuter taxied into position, but then exited the runway instead of taking off. As they taxied clear he saw the smoke at the departure end, and knew what happened. He talked with the commuters flight crew briefly, and then called us with his story a few minutes later while driving to work at LAX.

Part The Second

One of our pilots brought in a photocopy of (I believe) a Business & Commercial Aviation article written by a corporate pilot. Seems he was IFR holding near Aspen, working his way down the stack, and was stunned to hear a Citation call in VFR requesting landing clearance. The next day, in the FBO’s crew lounge he heard a pilot call Flight Service with the same N-number. After the call, the writer asked the pilot if he was the one flying the day before, and if so, how did he manage to get in VFR. The pilot said he was indeed the pilot, and bragged that he often used a special route through the mountains under the clouds to sneak in. The writer commented that what the pilot described would have violated a number of his company’s procedures not to mention several FAA regulations. The article concluded with the moral that taking such chances will eventually kill you—as it did in the case of this pilot and three other people at Palomar Airport when the Citation he was flying went off the end of the runway and burned.

Part The Third

A woman showed up at our door about two weeks ago, and asked if she could come in and look around, explaining that she was a neighbor and heard we’d done some things to our house. She wanted to make some changes too, and her’s was the same floor plan as ours. We showed her around, and as she left she invited us to a Fourth of July bash at her neighbors. We had previous plans for dinner with a group of our former pilots and their wives known as the Dinner Gang, so we stopped by the neighbors just for a few minutes to say hello. The neighbor‘s husband is a financial advisor, and on hearing I was a pilot told me that he and his partner had had a Citation. Said they had a really terrific pilot, very safety conscious; but sadly he was killed when his Citation went of the end of the runway at Palomar killing his copilot and two passengers too. Just couldn’t understand how that could happen. I mumbled something about rare Santa Ana winds from the east and dropped the topic.

Part The Fourth

At the Dinner Gang get-together later that evening I mentioned to one of our former pilots the strange coincidence of having just met someone who’d flown with the pilot that crashed at Palomar in the Citation back in 2006. Another pilot overheard my story, and added the final, and most bizarre twist to this tale.

Seems he was in Citation refresher ground school class recently, and one of the pilots in the class was asking very strange questions. So strange that the instructor asked the Chief Flight Instructor to sit through the next session, and see what he thought was going on. He too thought the questions were extraordinary—suggesting a complete lack of knowledge of aviation fundamentals. At the next break, he asked the pilot to step into his office. During the ensuing discussion it was revealed that the pilot was mega-rich, owned and flew his Citation himself, usually IFR, from Seattle to a ranch in Arizona. He’d never flown any other aircraft of any kind, and he didn’t have and never had a pilot‘s license or medical. A friend taught him to fly his jet.

I’ll bet you can guess who the ‘friend‘ was.

Part The Last: Moral

Why was the Citation that crashed at CRQ high on short final, why did he go off the end of the runway? Because at altitude the prevailing westerly winds were actually from the east and much stronger than the surface. Normal descent rates meant much longer than normal distance covered. In fact, the day before this crash I was at 3000 feet about 5 miles south of the airport in a biplane. In slow flight (about 40 mph) we were able to hang in one spot over the coast.

Why was he fast? Because he was high. So he tried to get down, and in a slick aircraft all that means is that you go faster. Plus he had that tailwind.

Why did he land long? Because he was high, fast, and had a tailwind. Although the dive bomber maneuver put him more or less in the right place over the threshold, all the extra speed meant he floated well down the runway.

Why didn’t he go around? Because he was trying to land. Sounds silly, but even experienced pilots can get fixated on the fact that they’re about to land (or takeoff), come hell or high water, and press on regardless of new factors that may have entered into the equation. Don’t know if it’s true, but I heard rumors that the Citation pax were running late for a meeting.

In our Twin Beech I brief before takeoff (out of earshot of passengers) that we’re going to try to takeoff, and if by some miracle everything cooperates so we can reach Vse, then we’ll proceed on our way. In other words I’m cocked to abort, not wired to fly. Same thing applies to landings. If everything cooperates we’re going to land. If not, we’ll go out and try it again. It is crucial, however, that you make that decision early. Wishful thinking and a late decision often means the aircraft staggers into the air (or not) with dire consequences. You're better off, if you decide too late, to take your licks and sacrifice the aircraft.

My Dad, a WW2 A-20 pilot, taught me that you have to always have options, and you have to fly in such a way as to maximize your options. The option of going around is good one to keep in mind.

1 comment:

  1. This is absolutely insane. I worked at Jet Source, CRQ the day of this crash, but the 2-10 shift. My girlfriend who was working the desk that day told me all about it. I cant even tell you what it was like to see the co-pilot's wife and son come in later that day...and then to find out had the captain listened to the co-pilot, based on the transcripts from the CVR - he may have lived to tell about a near death experience - or maybe just a scary landing instead of the obituaries and NTSB accident reports telling it