Plane & Pilot
Thursday, September 1, 2005

Weather-Avoidance Assistance

You can’t always rely on air traffic control for climate briefings

Aircraft radar track data was plotted on a weather radar chart that depicted areas of precipitation and their corresponding intensities. The plotted data showed the accident airplane flying into an area of level-six thunderstorm precipitation at 12,000 feet prior to a rapid loss of altitude.

At 1:59:09, the pilot transmitted, “SOS, I’ve got something wrong with the flight controls.”

At 1:59:16, the Chicago Center controller responded, “Go ahead. Let me know what you need.”

At 1:59:19, the sound of an open microphone was heard on the frequency for 12 seconds.

At 1:59:40, the pilot said, “Chicago Center, we’re [going in. I] can’t maintain altitude.”

At 1:59:53, the controller responded, “Roger, there’s no aircraft between you and the airport [unintelligible] for Grand Rapids. Grand Rapids is approximately 12 o’clock about 15 miles.” There were no further contacts with the airplane.

At 2:00:04, the Chicago Center radar associate controller contacted Grand Rapids Approach Control to coordinate emergency information on the airplane. He reported that the aircraft had been at 12,000 feet, but appeared to have departed that altitude. At 2:00:47, the Chicago Center radar associate told Grand Rapids Approach, “Twenty to 25 southwest of Lansing…looks like we’ve gone to a primary [radar return, no transponder] only. It looks like he’s right in the middle of that cell.” The Grand Rapids controller reported that he could see a weather cell at the location provided by Chicago Center for the aircraft.


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