Report: ‘loss of control’ in jet crash
January 12, 2006
A preliminary federal report on the Learjet crash near the Truckee Tahoe Airport on Dec. 28 that killed two people found that the crash was caused by an “in-flight loss of control.”While the National Transportation Safety Board report does not rule out a mechanical problem with the airplane, it indicates that strong gusts of wind pushed the airplane out of line with the runway, and a sharp left turn by the jet when it was approximately 300 feet from the ground ended in a nose dive into the Martis Valley.”Because we had winds from the south at over 30 knots, he was pushed to the north,” said Truckee Tahoe Airport Manager Dave Gotschall, who helped in the investigation and has reviewed the report. “[The wind] was pushing him pretty good.” An attempt to turn at a very sharp angle, which witnesses said the jet did before it crashed, can cause a “cross control stall,” a situation where the plane loses power, said Gotschall.Gotschall said that he has not heard of any mechanical problems that could have contributed to the crash.”There is nothing I can see, having been there and listening to things, that suggests there was a mechanical problem with the airplane, but they are still investigating,” Gotschall said.The plane, which was flying in from Twin Falls, Idaho, flew in a southerly direction over the airport before banking to approach the airport’s principal runway, which is numbered 28, according to witnesses. The jet crashed in a fireball approximately a third of a mile east of the airport’s longest runway, according to the federal report. It was approaching the airport on an instrument-guided approach rather than a visually-guided landing, according to the report.Gotschall, who spoke with witnesses in the airport building who watched the plane come in, said the jet’s approach seemed off-course for a while. He said the plane, which was supposed to be approaching the airport’s longest runway, according to one of its last radio transmissions with an Oakland air traffic controller, almost looked like it was heading to runway 19, the shorter, cross-wind runway.Investigators hope to harvest more clues from a cockpit recorder they pulled from the wreckage. The device, which had minor damage from the crash, is being analyzed in Washington D.C., Gotschall said.”When we removed it from the airplane it was damaged, but not severely,” he said.Gotschall said he was unsure whether the pilots, Jonathon Martin, 40, and Brett Karpy, 34, who died in the crash had ever flown into the Truckee Tahoe Airport before.The National Transportation Safety Board will release a final report on the crash later this year.