There 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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