The mystery behind the crash on February 23, 2019, of an Atlas Air 767 freight hauler operating under Amazon Prime delivery remains a mystery, though investigators have recently made progress toward solving the riddle of just what happened to the flight. The 767 freighter crashed in stormy weather in Houston’s Trinity Bay far short of its destination, Houston International (KIAH). Last week, the NTSB announced that it had located video from a nearby county prison that shows the final seconds of Amazon flight 3591. The video, which has not yet been released, shows the plane diving steeply nose down directly into the terrain below with no outward sign of attempted recovery, according to the NTSB.
Within the past few days searchers have made three major breakthroughs, including locating the plane’s cockpit voice and flight data recorders. Those finds will likely be key in helping investigators determine just what happened to cause the Amazon crash. These recorders capture the last moments of a flight. The flight data recorder keeps a running tab on more than a hundred parameters of flight, such as airspeed, engine operation and vertical velocity, to name just a few, and it also records pilot inputs. Using data from the flight recorder, investigators should be able to piece together exactly what the airplane and its pilots did and, possibly, what precipitated those actions. The cockpit voice recorder could also be crucial, as it will allow the NTSB to hear what was happening on the flight deck as the emergency unfolded.
Authorities have also confirmed that it has located remains belonging to the last of the Amazon flight’s occupants to be found, 60-year-old Captain Ricky Blakely. Searchers had previously found the bodies of two other occupants, first officer Conrad Aska, 44, and passenger Sean Archuleta, 36.
The FBI continues its probe into the crash, as well, raising questions about why the national investigatory organization is involved in a plane crash investigation. The answer is because it’s still a mystery. The FBI is tasked to look into major interstate crimes or the possibility of them, and until it determines that a crime has not been committed, it will almost certainly continue its inquiries. What kinds of crimes it might be investigating are the worst imaginable kinds, a bombing or other violent attack on the plane, acts that can be remarkably difficult to determine after a catastrophic crash. It took investigators months to gather the more than 10,000 pieces of debris scattered in the Lockerbie, Scotland, crash of Pan Am 103, in which 270 people were killed, in order to determine that the plane had indeed been brought down by a bomb.
Investigators are surely looking at the pilots’ actions, as well, and will hopefully be aided by the discovery of the recorders (assuming the data on the recorders is recoverable, as it almost always is). In many past investigations that data has given investigators solid clues on which to base their findings of probable cause. If after reviewing that data there’s no sign of a crime, such as a bombing or other intentional act to bring the plane down, the FBI will most likely leave the case to the NTSB.
And at this point, there has been no indication that there was foul play of any kind. Still, because the profile of this particular crash isn’t typical–airplanes don’t often crash after a precipitous dive from low altitude into the terrain below–and because there remains no clear explanation for those last seconds, until that explanation is found, investigators have some serious detective work ahead of them.