What’s off the end makes a difference

August 15, 2013 by Bruce Landsberg

Tweed New Haven KHVNThere was great tragedy at the Tweed-New Haven airport last week when the pilot of a Turbocommander 690 apparently lost control on a missed approach and crashed into two houses that were less than a mile off the end of the runway. The pilot and his college-bound son were killed. On the ground, a mother lost her two children while a father and son died in the other house. This accident is still under active investigation so standard blog rules apply—we don’t know much and the commentary reflects that lack of verifiable data.

What does appear to be factual is that the weather for the ILS or GPS approach to the north runway (Runway 2) was well above straight-in minimums and also above circling minimums. Visibility at the time of the accident was reported as nine miles in light rain. This was complicated by a 9 to 14 knot tailwind; even with a 5,600 foot runway, that’s a mandate to circle in my view. The missed approach procedure, depending on which one the pilot was using, is fairly straightforward. Climb to 600′ or 2,000′, as the case may be, and then turn to the missed approach holding fix. Was there a mechanical failure? Perhaps. Was the pilot distracted? Probably. Eye witness reports said the aircraft was spiraling down—that sounds like a stall/spin scenario.

I gave an interview to one of the local radio stations, and the reporter asked a perfectly logical question: “Should there be more regulation for GA?” My response was, of course, “No!” The FAR/AIM currently exceeds 1,000 pages and more regulation would not have prevented this, but something didn’t work. The community is hurting and a local church took up a collection for the mother who lost all her belongings and something far more precious. Meanwhile, in Birmingham, UPS just lost an Airbus 300 in an open field on approach. Some similarities except for aircraft, crew, possibly weather, and type of operation, BUT no ground fatalities. How different it would have been if there had been a residential area improperly located.

The radio interviewer was most interested when I mentioned how weak zoning allowing residential construction under the departure and arrival paths created problems—mostly related to noise, but occasionally with accidents. Over the last 20 years KHVN has had nine accidents with only one fatality. Most of the mishaps involved botched landings, but no injury. A single accident of this magnitude, though, can change the dynamic. The Air Safety Institute is planning a local seminar to discuss what is known and to re-emphasize safety of flight in urban environments. That reactive response, though, is prefaced by the pro-active outreach we do every month with dozens of live seminars and all the online learning that’s available. Still, there will be many more questions to answer and a better understanding of what happened, why, and a renewed commitment on the part of pilots to learn from this tragedy. Perhaps we could also look at zoning requirements.

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Bruce Landsberg
President, AOPA Foundation

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10 Responses to “What’s off the end makes a difference”

  1. Richard Wegener Says:

    The Commander was on the ILS RWY 02, circle to land RWY 20. He was not on a missed (Go to liveatc.net and download the archive) At one point the tower asks if the pilot can maintain visual contact, to which the pilot says yes. A few seconds later, there is a very short, but obviously distressed call form the Commander.

  2. Richard Wegener Says:

    And… there were four victims, not six: The pilot and his son and the two children in the house. I don’t know where you got the information about “a father and son died in the other house.”

  3. Bruce Landsberg Says:

    Richard….

    Thanks much for your clarification (As noted in standard blog rules). After this was written, we found out that the aircraft was circling. Many air carriers and corporate operators will not conduct circling approaches due to the significantly higher risk.

    Regarding the fatalities, according to NBC Connecticut – “Authorities said previously that as many as six people could have died in the crash, but East Haven Deputy Fire Chief Anthony Moscato said the four recovered late Friday are believed to be the only victims.”

    This is a perfect example of why we are careful to offer disclaimers and not jump to too many conclusions. The basic observations – whether it was a missed approach or a circle to land 0- still require a proper angle of attack and any ground fatalities make this a much more newsworthy event.

    All that said – this is a forum and everyone’s input is welcome

  4. William Sullivan Says:

    My inclination is to focus on what may have been motivating the Pilot to challenge his operational proficiency in that aircraft.

    It was reported that he & son made the trip to visit a university nearby the airport. Could there have been a crucial meeting appointment at the son’s school that created a classic case of “Get-There-Now-itis”?

    Personally, I conduct a thoughtful analysis whenever I catch myself trying to rush anything that is potentially dangerous. Is it worth the risk? Applied to both flying and driving, it has saved my bacon many times.

  5. John Wilson Says:

    While the position of the home(s) relates only to the collateral damage aspect of this crash, inappropriate zoning issues are a headache virtually all airport operators contend with constantly.

    Our home strip is solid residences right up to the airport boundary on one end of our runway and the fate of the undeveloped dirt remaining on the opposite approach is a battle merely delayed by the current building slump. Most likely we will get a small open space over-run, with hopefully an avigation easement to use in defense against future noise complaints for the rest.

    Zoning officials are pressured by developers with political clout, elected officials pushing for taxable development and threats of lawsuits over the “taking” of property rights. Rarely will the airport get the protection it really should have.

  6. Willard Gillete Says:

    Why was RWY 2 active?? For those of us who are not instrument rated, 14 knots of tailwind on approach is a lot. We are slowing down at a time when we are transitioning to outside visual input versus instruments. One missed visual scan of the airspeed indicator makes a huge difference in your perception as you see rooftops passing below at faster than normal speed. The runway is looking shorter and the tendancy could be to slow down more. It may be a chore to keep changing active runways, but I see landing downwind as the multiplier in accident rates.

  7. David Eberhardt Says:

    Willard Gillete raises a good point or two worth remembering. It does appear that he was flying a circle off the approach to rwy 2 (according to Richard Wegener post).

    I don’t see how a simple circle to land should pose a problem … unless the pilot is not proficient or current in instruments. Meeting the minimum currency requirements according to FARs is a prescription for trouble, especially in single seat operations. Maybe info about his flying expereince will reveal what we need to know.

  8. John Townsley Says:

    John Wilson’s comments really capture the essence of this tragedy. Poorly crafted land use Deion’s made under the guise of “local control” nearly always bend to the desires of well heeled and well connected developers . As long as local politics assures that short term interests trump effective airport protections essential for the safety of people on the ground AND aircrew/passengers we’ll continue to read about needless deaths and property loss resulting from predictable accidents.

  9. Russell Craig Says:

    Made a lot of circling approaches in Turbo Commander. Would say one of best for circling approaches. No mention of ceiling thou?

  10. Ed Says:

    I’ve heard conflicting reports that the bases were from 800 to 1100 feet at the time. I have a relative who lives 2 blocks from the crash site and he said it was raining pretty heavily at the time. I believe if you look at the map of the crash site, it looks like the crash happened about where the plane would be turning base to final for runway 20 which would be consistent with getting distracted, etc. on the circling approach, especially if the bases were at 800 on an approach with a 720′ minimum.

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