Friday, March 17, 2006

Accident of the Week

This week, we return to the beautiful fantasy land of Hawaii, visited once before during another AOTW post. Presented today is the crash of a Cessna 414 (model nickname: "Chancellor"). The report gives little detail as to what may have brought about this unfortunate accident, which killed all the occupants of the plane -- and laid waste to somewhere between 10 and 20 BMWs parked in the dealer's lot where the wreckage came to rest.
NTSB Identification: LAX06FA126
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Wednesday, March 08, 2006 in Kahulu
i, HI
Aircraft: Cessna 414A, registration: N5601C
Injuries: 3 Fatal.

This is preliminary information, subject to change, and may contain errors. Any errors in this report will be corrected when the final report has been completed.

On March 8, 2006, at 1913 Hawaiian standard time, a Cessna 414A, N5601C, collided with terrain while maneuvering approximately 1 mile west of the Kahului, Hawaii, airport, on the island of Maui. The airplane was operated by Hawaii Air Ambulance, Inc., as a positioning flight under the provisions of 14 CFR Part 91. The airline transport pilot and two flight medical attendants were fatally injured; the airplane was destroyed. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and an instrument flight plan had been filed. The flight originated at Honolulu Airport, Honolulu, Hawaii, at 1830.

Hawaii Air Ambulance reported to the National Transportation Safety Board investigator that the airplane was to fly to Kahului airport to pickup a patient for transport.

Witnesses reported that they observed the twin engine airplane maneuvering very low, between 100 and 300 feet, over Kahului about 1 mile west of the airport. The wings were wobbling at times and the airplane rolled up to 60 degrees angle of bank at other times. All witnesses said that they heard engine noises that they associated with an engine or engines operating at high power, and saw the landing and position lights on. All witnesses said that they observed the wings wobble and then watched it drop straight down out of the sky. It exploded as it went into an automobile dealership.

The wreckage was in the BMW automobile dealership and was completely destroyed by a post impact fire along with about 10 automobiles.

It seems very strange that the airplane would be that low (100-300 AGL) so far away from the airport. The NTSB brief doesn't report about exchanges between the pilot and ATC, so there's no way of knowing at this point whether the low-level maneuvers were intentional or the product of some other problem that beset the crew or the airplane. One news report indicates that the aircraft almost crashed into a highway. Fortunately, no one at the dealership was hurt, apparently because of sheer luck -- according to this report, the dealership had closed for the day, but the cleaning crew hadn't yet shown up. (Another good report, with pictures of the victims, located here.)

Looks like a pretty raging fire ensued, thanks to these photos from KHNL Channel 8:

(There's video of the post-crash dealership fire available if you go to KHNL's story on the accident. Look on the right-hand side near the top for links to several different video clips, including one entitled "Raw Video of Crash Aftermath in Kahului.")

In an interesting development, shortly after the accident, a number of other pilots with Hawaii Air Ambulance signed a letter supporting their deceased colleague, saying that he likely had done everything possible to prevent the accident. (Story here.) Apparently, the same pilot had previously suffered an engine failure and escaped without injury.

Finally, if you vaguely remember Kahului Airport, good for you. It was the point of origin for the April 28, 1998 tragic flight of Aloha Airlines flight 243 in which a flight attendant was lost after part of the fuselage was torn away in flight and she was sucked out of the resulting hole.

Tomorrow is the annual in 78S. Please say a good word for us that we don't find any unexpected repairs that will lay waste to the IFR Pilot's savings account....

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