The crew of a Learjet that crashed into office buildings near a New Jersey airport two years ago committed multiple mistakes during the 25-minute flight from Philadelphia, starting with the pilot’s decision to let the co-pilot fly the aircraft in violation of company policy, the National Transportation Safety Board concluded Tuesday.
Both pilots were killed in the fiery May 15, 2017, crash just south of Teterboro Airport, located about 8 miles (12 kilometers) from New York City that caters to private jets often carrying the rich and famous. No one else was aboard the aircraft.
NTSB investigators painted a picture of a flight beset by incorrect calculations, missed signals and miscommunication between the two pilots and air traffic controllers at Teterboro.
There was “widespread procedural noncompliance” on the part of the crew, according to NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt, beginning with the pilot’s decision to have the co-pilot take the controls. The co-pilot had had multiple difficulties during training and was designated by Trans-Pacific Jets to perform flight monitoring.
“The pilot had to extensively coach the co-pilot, while performing his own responsibilities,” Sumwalt said. “He did neither well, and both pilots lacked situational awareness.”
The NTSB faulted Trans-Pacific for inadequate safety monitoring of its operations. The Honolulu-based company hasn’t responded to a message left before business hours Tuesday.
The flight’s problems began even before the plane left Philadelphia, investigators concluded. The pilot initially requested to fly at 27,000 feet, an altitude far too high for a roughly 85-mile (136-kilometer) flight, and there was no evidence the two conducted a briefing on the approach procedures at the small Teterboro airport.
“Somebody needed to get together before they even started the engines and talk about this,” NTSB investigator David Lawrence said Tuesday.
A dozen times during the short flight, the co-pilot had trouble controlling the plane’s speed, Sumwalt said, and the crew initially mistook Newark Liberty International Airport’s runways for Teterboro’s as it headed north. After passing Newark, Teterboro’s air traffic controllers instructed the plane to turn east at a point just north of MetLife Stadium in preparation for a northward turn to Teterboro. But the crew, apparently uncertain about the approach procedure, didn’t execute the maneuver or ask for clarification from the tower.
Now bearing down on the airport, the plane banked sharply to the right. One controller told investigators the turn was so extreme he could see the aircraft’s entire underbelly. The cockpit voice recorder revealed the expletive-filled final moments as the pilot took the controls back 15 seconds before impact.
The plane crashed into office buildings and a parking lot less than a mile from the runway. Employees at a public works building had left the crash site minutes earlier, according to an eyewitness.
To see if your next flight is on an affected Boeing aircraft, you can visit Flightstats.com.