Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Getting Ready For NextGen

The controllers are as crucial as the automation

One accident involving some of the factors highlighted by Hersman involved a Mitsubishi MU-2B flown by an airline transport pilot with 30,708 hours. The airplane was destroyed when it impacted terrain near Argyle, Fla. The pilot, who was the only person on board, was killed. The flight was on an IFR flight plan from Tulsa, Okla., to Panama City–Bay County International Airport (PFN) in Panama City, Fla.

The pilot phoned flight service at 7:26 a.m., and got a weather briefing. The briefer noted no adverse weather conditions along the route, stating that the pilot could expect to encounter only some showers between Tulsa and Fort Smith, Ark. The airplane departed Tulsa at 8:53 a.m., and then climbed to FL190. Two hours later, it was handed off to Jacksonville Air Route Traffic Control Center. At 11 a.m., the pilot was instructed to descend to 15,000 feet MSL. Two minutes later, the controller broadcast an alert that a SIGMET had been issued pertaining to thunderstorms in portions of Florida, southwest of the pilot’s route. At 11:03 a.m., the controller cleared the pilot to descend to 11,000 feet. At 11:10:21 a.m., the pilot was instructed to contact Tyndall Approach on 125.2 MHz.

Review of the interphone communications between the Tyndall Radar Approach Control (RAPCON) North Approach radar assistant and a controller at Eglin Air Force Base showed that at 11:10:18 a.m., the Tyndall radar assistant asked Eglin for information on the intensity of the weather on Eglin’s radar. The Eglin controller responded that his display was showing intensities one through six. The Tyndall radar assistant replied, “One through six? Nothing specific? Okay, thanks,” and concluded the call.

The pilot checked in with the Tyndall RAPCON North Approach controller at 11:10:39 a.m., and reported having ATIS information Tango. The Tyndall controller advised that Uniform ATIS was current, and provided the pilot with the updated information: PFN was reporting estimated wind from 250 degrees at five knots, visibility 10 miles and few clouds at 3,000 feet. The pilot was told to expect a visual approach. He then transmitted, “We’re at 11,000, like to get down lower so we can get underneath this stuff.” The controller told the pilot to stand by and expect lower altitude in three miles. About 15 seconds later, the controller cleared the pilot to descend to 6,000 feet.

At 11:12:27 a.m., the pilot was instructed to contact a different Tyndall Approach controller. The new controller cleared the pilot to descend to 3,000 feet at his discretion, and the pilot acknowledged. There was no further contact with the airplane. At 11:15:40 a.m., the Panama controller attempted to advise the pilot that radar contact was lost, but repeated attempts to establish communications and locate the airplane were unsuccessful.

About one mile south of the accident site, a witness reported hearing a “loud bang” and then seeing the airplane in a nose-down spiral as parts separated from it. At the time of the accident, the witness stated that it was raining with lightning and thunder. Local authorities responding to the accident site reported hard rain and that “the thunderstorm materialized very quickly.”


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