Pilot incapacitation behind 2021 US Cessna Citation crash

A Cessna Citation V business jet that crashed in Oregon, USA, killing the pilot, after entering a spiral descent, was due to pilot incapacitation, investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).

After a year-and-a-half investigation, the NTSB could not provide an exact reason why the pilot became incapacitated in flight and lost control of the small business jet. The aircraft impacted the ground at high speed in a low upright attitude on January 9, 2021, immediately killing the pilot.

“The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause(s) of this accident are loss of control of the aircraft due to pilot incapacitation for reasons that could not be determined,” read the statement. incident. report released on August 12, 2022.

However, investigators noted that the pilot’s age and health were likely a factor, and also detailed any difficulties he had previously encountered in controlling the aircraft.

What happened before a spiral descent

According to the flight plan, on the day of the accident, the Cessna Citation V, registration N3RB, was to take off from a flight training and recreation airport in Troutdale, Oregon and arrive at a civilian airport. – joint military in Boise (BOI) in Idaho. The pilot’s family members confirmed to investigators that this was a regular route for the pilot, who planned to return to the departure airport later the same day.

The aircraft took off from TTD airport at approximately 1:00 p.m. local time, and as the aircraft climbed to the flight altitude of 15,000 feet, the air traffic controller (ATC) lost contact with the pilot.

It took several attempts by the Portland Approach and Troutdale Tower controllers to establish contact with the pilot.

“During the first 15 minutes of the flight, the pilot of the high-performance complex jet aircraft appeared to have difficulty maintaining the headings and altitudes assigned by air traffic controllers, and throughout the flight responded intermittently. to controller instructions,” the NTSB report said.

Around 1:27 p.m., when the business jet had reached an altitude of 27,000 ft, it began to deviate to the right while continuing to climb. ATC immediately alerted the pilot that he was of course about 30° to the right, but the pilot did not respond.

The jet continued to climb for almost two minutes, reaching its highest altitude of 31,000 feet. Then it suddenly began to descend and for the remaining eight minutes of flight it was in a spiral descent, before finally crashing into the Mutton mountain range.

Investigators said the heading and flight path prior to descent was consistent with the pilot not using the autopilot during the flight. However, readings from the spiral descent indicated that the pilot was not manipulating the controls during this time, leading the NTSB to conclude that he was already incapacitated.

What was behind the inability?

A review of the 72-year-old pilot’s medical history revealed several conditions and medications that he did not report to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The autopsy revealed no presence of specimens or natural diseases that could be identified as major factors leading to the pilot’s in-flight incapacitation.

“None of the pilot’s known medical conditions or medications would have directly caused the incapacitation, but the pilot may have had the undiagnosed illness or had an acute event that would have rendered him incapacitated,” the NTSB wrote.

“His age, sex, high blood pressure and hypertension put him at risk of a heart attack or stroke. of the pilot, the reason for his incapacitation could not be determined,” the investigative agency concluded.

Struggling to make the plane work

The NTSB also found that the pilot held a private pilot certificate and type ratings for the Grumman G-111 Albatross and Learjet. The victim had undergone Citation 560 training towards the end of 2020, but on the day of the accident he did not hold a type rating for this specific jet, which he purchased in July 2020.

“He had received training on the plane approximately two months before the accident but did not receive a type rating and left before the training was completed,” the investigators explained. “During the training, he struggled a lot in high workload environments and had difficulty operating the aircraft’s avionics suite, which had just been installed. He revealed to a fellow pilot that he preferred to ‘hand-fly’ the plane rather than use the autopilot.”

The crash flight was likely the first time he had flown the plane solo, the NTSB added.

Kevin A. Perras