The NTSB released its final report on the 2017 runway excursion of a charter plane, Ameristar 9363, carrying the University of Michigan’s basketball team to a tournament, which it would go on to win, by the way. The plane, an MD-83 (a derivative of the DC-9) went off the runway as its pilots were attempting to take off from Willow Run Airport in Ypsilanti, MI. There were no serious injuries. The plane came to rest beyond a perimeter road, near where the airport authority had added a 1,000-foot extension, which was completed in 2009. The MD-83 was heavily damaged.
Here’s a story that many people got wrong and are getting wrong today.
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When the crash happened, the pilot flying, 54-year-old Mark Radloff, Ameristar’s chief pilot, was occupying the right seat. Immediately following the mishap, Radloff, who had nearly 10,000 hours of experience, was widely criticized for not following standard operating procedures, for not following protocol and for almost killing everybody aboard when he called off the takeoff. According to the NTSB, he called for the abort well past V1, decision speed in a twin-engine aircraft, and even past Vr, the speed at which you need to rotate. V1 is established in order to create a clear dividing line between the point at which you have enough runway left to stop the plane safely should an abort be necessary. If you lose an engine before V1, you stop. If you lose an engine at or beyond V1, you go flying.
In this case, Radloff called for the abort after those speeds had been reached because, he said, the plane would not rotate.
In his own words from Radloff’s comments on website The Aviation Herald.
“What I testified to the NTSB was that as I rotated, it felt like there was a stack of bricks on the nose, and the control column was like a pry bar, and the stack wouldn't budge. The yoke felt dead in my hands. Furthermore, there was no sensation of the nose rising, or a change in the sound of the airflow over the windscreen, or the view out the front. The horizon and ground objects should have fallen from sight, and the view out front should have changed to all sky. Those were the clues. Regardless, there was still plenty that could have gone wrong that didn't, and by the grace of God, truly, I am still here. And thankfully so are all the other 115.”
The NTSB affirmed his judgment, finding that the plane’s elevator had jammed due to damage from a windstorm at Willow Run in the days before the crash.
If the pilot had chosen to try to take off and diagnose the problem at altitude, it is almost certain that the plane would have crashed and it is very likely that there would have been many fatalities—indeed, the crash could very possibly have claimed the lives of every person on the plane.
Many media outlets are claiming that the pilot broke the regs in order to do what he did, but that is not the case. In an emergency situation the pilot in command has absolute authority to deviate from the regulations in order to handle the emergency. Which is precisely what this pilot did, and it was completely legal.
And his quick thinking very probably saved all 116 people aboard.
Talk about heroes. Capt. Radloff is just that.
Here’s a link to the NTSB’s press release, which then links to the full report.