Feds: Pilots on Katz plane tried to stop takeoff

The nose of the private jet that went off the runway and burst into flames on Saturday night near Boston and killed all seven people (including Lewis Katz) on board. (Jim Davis/Globe Staff)
The nose of the private jet that went off the runway and burst into flames on Saturday night near Boston and killed all seven people (including Lewis Katz) on board. (Jim Davis/Globe Staff)
Posted: June 05, 2014

IN LESS than a minute, seven lives were lost Saturday at a tiny airfield outside Boston.

In the moments before that tragedy, according to the National Transportation Safety Board, the pilots at the helm of a jet owned by Daily News co-owner Lewis Katz aborted the takeoff and struggled to bring the aircraft to a halt as it sped down a runway at nearly 200 mph.

All seven people on board, including Katz, died when the plane plummeted down an embankment and burst into flames.

Yesterday, NTSB investigators revealed preliminary information in the crash of the Gulfstream IV at Hanscom Field in Bedford, Mass.

That data, including a 49-second audio recording taken from the aircraft's cockpit voice recorder, show that the jet had reached its top speed without leaving the ground, according to Luke Schiada, the NTSB investigator leading the probe.

Why takeoff was interrupted remains unclear, and Schiada declined to speculate.

He did reveal some details of the moments leading up to the fatal crash, based on the audio recording.

After they got the go-ahead to take off, the pilots noted on the recording that they had reached minimum takeoff speed and had proceeded to "rollout" - an aviation term referring to the point when the pilot pulls back on the steering yoke, pushing the plane's nose skyward, Schiada said.

The recording then picked up comments "concerning aircraft control," Schiada said. At the same time, readings from the jet's flight data recorder indicate that the aircraft's brakes were engaged, as were its thrust reversers, which alter the air flow to the engines to slow the jet down.

Steve Cunningham, a Philly-born commercial pilot familiar with the Gulfstream IV, said that at 200 mph, the jet would need between 5,000 feet and 6,000 feet of runway to safely stop. Data indicate that the plane skidded down the final 2,000 feet of the runway, then overshot a 1,000-foot section beyond the runway before coming to rest in a gully.

In light of the audio recording, Cunningham believes that a "serious control problem" forced the pilots to abort their takeoff.

"They're trained to take off, and the airplane is made to take off," he said. "In cases like this, you take off, and you have many options to sort out your problem.

"Something clearly told them 'this plane is not flyable' and that the best thing to do is try to ride it out."

NTSB personnel continued to sift through the jet's wreckage yesterday, and will remain at the airfield through the end of this week, Schiada said.

Meanwhile, analysts will conduct a more thorough review of the data taken from the jet's recorders, which include information about the aircraft's engines.

Given the complexity of that information, an official ruling on the cause of the crash could take up to 18 months, NTSB spokesman Keith Holloway said.


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