The Cessna Citation 560 XLS+ that crashed in Farmington, Connecticut, on September 2, 2021, after having just taken off from Plainville’s Robertson Field, likely took off with its parking brake on, according to an NTSB preliminary report.
The report quoted witnesses who were concerned by what they saw on the takeoff roll: “Two witnesses observed the takeoff roll with one reporting the airplane was ‘going slower’ than they had seen during previous takeoffs. When the airplane was about 2/3 down the runway, one witness noted a puff of blue colored smoke from the back side of the airplane. The other witness stated that the nose landing gear was still on the ground as the airplane passed a taxiway intersection near the mid-point of the runway and he said to a friend with him that something was wrong.”
Tragically, something was very wrong. The plane was apparently unable to achieve sufficient takeoff speed, as described by a third witness, who reported, according to the NTSB, that “the airplane departed the runway in a level attitude. After clearing the runway, the airplane’s nose pitched up, but the airplane was not climbing. The airplane then impacted a powerline pole, which caused a small explosion near the right engine followed by a shower of softball-size sparks. After hitting the pole, the noise of the engine went from normal sounding to a much more grinding, metallic sound. The airplane then began to oscillate about its pitch and roll axis before the witness lost sight of it behind trees.”
The plane never made it into the air until after it departed the end of the runway, according to the preliminary report: “The weight-on-wheels (WOW) indication remained in an on-ground state until beyond the departure end of the runway where the terrain began sloping downward. After departing the runway at an indicated airspeed of about 120 knots, the elevator position increased to a maximum recorded value of about 17° deflection, the airplane’s pitch rapidly increased to about +22°. Immediately thereafter the elevator position rapidly decreased to about -1.0° and the stick shaker (aerodynamic stall warning) activated.”
After hitting the power pole, the plane, which was barely flying in the first place, didn’t stay in the air for long, as it hit the ground less than a thousand feet later before skidding at high speed into the side of the building, where it came to rest. Several employees at the facility, Trumpf Incorporated, were injured but none had life-threatening injuries, according to a report from NBCConnecticut.com.
The parking brake on the XLS, according to the NTSB and a pilot contacted by Plane & Pilot with experience in the model, managing the parking brake being off for takeoff is a manual, checklist task, and the NTSB confirms this: “Parking brake valve position and normal brake application were not recorded by the FDR, and the airplane’s takeoff configuration warning system did not incorporate parking brake valve position as part of its activation logic.” In other words, there was nothing to prevent the crew from attempting a takeoff with the parking brake mistakenly set.
If indeed, as seems likely the parking brake is found to be the culprit, it won’t be the first time such a crash has occurred, though it is rare. Way back in 1980, a Dassault Falcon 10 taking off from Chicago Meigs Field (no longer an airport, sadly), went off the end of the runway and went into Lake Michigan, after the crew attempted to takeoff with the parking brake set. Two of the six people aboard were killed. In 2019, another Cessna Citation XL failed to get airborne on takeoff from Oroville, California, ran off the end of the runway and caught fire. The NTSB in its preliminary report doesn’t say the plane’s parking brake was set, but it is widely believed that this was the case. Remarkably, no one was injured in the crash, which destroyed the aircraft and ignited a small brush fire, that was quickly extinguished by local firefighters.