NTSB Discusses Investigation In Public Meeting
A maintenance error
combined with excess weight in the back of the plane led to the
crash of US Airways Express Flight 5481 last year at North
Carolina's Charlotte-Douglas Airport, federal investigators said
Thursday. All 21 people aboard were killed in the crash, the
deadliest in the United States in nearly 2 1/2 years. The
twin-engine Beech 1900, operated by Air Midwest, took off on Jan.
8, 2003. Within seconds, however, its nose pitched up sharply. The
aircraft stalled, then rolled left and plummeted into a maintenance
hangar. The plane had been destined for Greer, S.C.
Lorenda Ward, the investigator in charge of the NTSB probe, said
improperly rigged elevator cables combined with improper weight
distribution led to the crash of the commuter plane.
"The simultaneous existence of these two errors resulted in a
virtually uncontrollable airplane," Ward said in a report presented
to the NTSB, which was to vote whether to accept the findings. The
board also was expected to make recommendations on safety
The plane was within
100 pounds of its limit when it took off. The cockpit voice
recorder transcripts show Capt. Katie Leslie and co-pilot Jonathan
Gibbs discussed the issue on the runway. Investigators said the
plane's tail was too heavy because of the way the passengers and
bags were distributed. In addition, the pilots could not
compensate because the elevator cables did not have their full
range of motion.
Safety board investigators found that a contract mechanic,
several nights before the accident, improperly adjusted the
elevator cables while the plane was at the airline's Huntington
(WV) maintenance facility. But there may be several reasons
for the mechanic's mistake, including inadequate oversight of the
maintenance facility by the company and the government. Air Midwest
contracted maintenance to Raytheon Aerospace (now known as Vertex
Aerospace), which hired mechanics from Structural Modification and
Repair Technicians Inc. The DOT inspector general reported in July
that the FAA does not adequately oversee the growing number of
outside contractors repairing commercial airplanes.
"If there's a
systematic problem out there with either oversight of these
third-party maintenance facilities or systematic problems with the
ways manuals are maintained, hopefully that's what we want to see
fixed," said Capt. Terry McVenes, executive air safety vice
chairman for the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA).
FAA spokesman Les Dorr said it is up to the airline to make sure
maintenance work is carried out properly. FAA inspectors visit
sites based on where they can best allocate resources to mitigate
risk, he said. Air Midwest's parent company, Mesa Air Group,
announced this week that it will no longer contract out its
maintenance. Also, the maintenance manual for the Beech 1900 has
been revised to clarify rigging procedures.
The Charlotte crash also prompted changes in the FAA's
guidelines for assessing the weight of passengers and baggage,
adding up to 10 pounds to its estimate for people and 5 pounds to