NTSB releases foreplay on Tennessee citations crash

Think about some of the performance numbers you use to operate your aircraft: rate of climb or descent, airspeeds, etc. On a roll, most of these numbers increase normally, significantly. In a Cessna 172, a rate of descent of 3,100 fpm would be frightening to anyone on board, not to mention the nose down angle required for that rate would likely tear off parts of the fuselage. But in a jet, a rate of descent of 3,100 fpm would be rapid, but not that unusual if the PIC received a request to “increase your rate of descent” from ATC. Now imagine an unforeseen rate of descent of 31,000 fpm, which is a 10-fold increase. The nose of the plane would point almost straight down, but shortly before that jet started to lose parts as well. .

This 31,000 fpm rate of descent is one of the last usable radar data that the Nashville TRACON radar recorded from the N66BK, a Cessna Citation 501, before it crashed into Percy Priest Lake. about 3 nm northeast of Smyrna, Tennessee Airport (KMQY) on May 29, 2021. Known facts were released last week in the NTSB’s preliminary report on the crash. The plane left KMQY on an IFR flight plan to West Palm Beach, Florida, and crashed less than three minutes after departure, killing the pilot and the six passengers on board. Although it was legal to fly the jet aircraft, the pilot had minimal experience with the aircraft and apparently flying in the IFR system.

“The plane took off at 10:53:06 and made a right turn uphill to the east,” according to the NTSB report. “The pilot was ordered to contact Nashville departure control. At 1054:27, with the aircraft approximately 3 miles north of the airport, a departure controller contacted the aircraft and asked if it was “on frequency”. The pilot replied: “N66BK with you”. The controller asked the pilot to turn right on a heading of 130 degrees; however, the pilot did not acknowledge receipt. At 1054:46, the controller asked the pilot if he was “copying” the heading instruction. The pilot responded about four seconds later and said: “130… Bravo Kilo”. At 1055: 11, the controller asked the pilot to climb and maintain 15,000 ft, but there was no response. The controller then made several unsuccessful attempts to re-establish communications with the aircraft.

“A review of the radar data revealed that after the pilot made contact with departure control, the aircraft made a series of heading changes as well as several climbs and descents before entering a steep left turn. and descending. The last radar return, at 10 h 55:05, indicated that the aircraft was at an altitude of about 700 ft msl, descending from about 31,000 [fpm], on a heading of 090.

A nearby witness fishing in the lake heard what he thought was a low-flying military jet before seeing the Citation crash into the lake in a “straight down” attitude with its nose forward. He saw no evidence of fire or explosion. The aircraft struck a shallow section of the lake approximately 2-8 feet deep. After about two-thirds of the plane wreckage was recovered, investigators were able to confirm that there was no evidence of an in-flight fire prior to impact.

The Citation was not required to carry flight data or a cockpit voice recorder, so there is little in-flight data to assist investigators. The NTSB said the multi-engine commercial pilot logged nearly 1,700 hours and qualified for the Citation, but only logged a total of 83 hours on the crashed aircraft. One irrelevant element was that his second-class medical examination had expired. Since this automatically amounts to a third-class medical certificate, the pilot was permitted to operate the jet under Part 91, although he could not exercise any of the privileges of his commercial pilot certificate. It is not known how many of the pilot’s 83 hours were acquired in flight under actual IFR conditions.

The NTSB’s final report will include post-autopsy information about the pilot that may offer information on a probable cause. This final report is unlikely to be available until 2023.

Kevin A. Perras