Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Accepting A Bad Situation

It’s better to accept a poor outcome than to create a disastrous one

DECISION MAKING: An attempt to execute a go-around by a pilot of a Hawker Beechcraft jet late in the landing roll with insufficient runway contributed to a fatal accident.
While a pilot needs to evaluate the consequences of making any decision, he or she needs to know that revising a decision is likely to make a bad situation even worse. In its recently concluded investigation of an accident involving a twin-engine jet, the NTSB said that the captain made a bad situation worse by not accepting the fact that the airplane was going to run off the end of the runway, and instead attempting a last-minute go-around.

The accident occurred on July 31, 2008, at about 9:45 a.m. The Hawker Beechcraft BAE 125-800A was operated as East Coast Jets flight 81. The Part 135 flight was taking employees of an entertainment company from Atlantic City, N.J., to Owatonna, Minn. The captain, first officer and all six passengers were killed.

Their flying day began at about 6 a.m., when they repositioned the airplane from Allentown, Pa., to Atlantic City. The accident flight took off for Minnesota at about 7:13.

About 9:24, the airplane's cockpit voice recorder picked up the pilots listening to the OWA automated weather-observation system. The report was calm winds and visibility of 10 miles in thunderstorms and rain. Distant lightning was detected.

At 9:25:37, a Minneapolis Center controller asked if they saw extreme precipitation 20 miles straight ahead. The first officer radioed, "Yeah, we're paintin' it here and…what is the [cloud] bases?" The controller said he didn't know, but the tops were "quite high." The controller volunteered, "I don't recommend you go through it; I've had nobody go through it." The controller suggested a deviation north of Rochester, Minn., to get around the weather. The first officer asked for a deviation. The captain then remarked, "Let's hope we get underneath it."

At 9:27:48, the controller asked the captain to state his intentions and added, "I can't even give you a good recommendation right now." The captain replied, "I got it clear probably for another 40 miles." The controller then cleared the flight to descend to FL190, then to 14,000 feet. The captain commented to the first officer, "What do you mean what are my intentions? Get me around this…so I can go to the field…I ain't gonna turn around and go home." The CVR recorded what sounded like rain impacting the wind screen.

At 9:32:21, the captain commented that he couldn't see the weather "out there anymore," and asked, "Is it above us?" The first officer replied, "It might be above us." The flight was handed off to Minneapolis Approach. The first officer requested a turn toward OWA. The approach controller stated that he would keep the flight in his airspace for seven more miles, and then start the turn.

At 9:34:08, Minneapolis Approach gave the flight a left turn, and handed it off to Rochester Approach. Sixteen seconds later, the first officer radioed Rochester Approach and, when asked which approach he would like, responded, "...could do the ILS." The flight was cleared to 7,000 feet, and given vectors for the ILS approach.


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