I was sitting in my aircraft at the approach end of the runway at San Carlos, waiting to be issued an instrument clearance. A Beech BE65 Queen Air taxied down to the runway and took off ahead of me. Sadly, it crashed 30 seconds later into a lagoon north of the airport, killing the three aboard. 

Some questions raised in the various news accounts:

Why was the aircraft headed north on the “Bay Meadows” departure, when its ultimate destination was to the south?

I heard the pilot – or whomever was handling the radios — tell the ground controller that he was going to fly along the ridge line west of the airport and then to South County airport. TheContinue Reading Witness to the Final Flight of Queen Air N832B

The NTSB released its preliminary report on the Pine Mountain Lake crash.  As usual, the preliminary report contains no conclusions concerning the cause of the crash. For that, we’ll have to wait up to 4 years.  The preliminary report does, however, hint that the NTSB’s investigation will focus on whether the pilot pressed on into weather beyond what the regulations allowed.

The full text of the report is here.  Some excerpts:

Instrument night meteorological conditions prevailed at the accident site, and no flight plan had been filed.

Instrument weather conditions are those that require a pilot to fly by reference to his instruments rather than by looking out the window. To fly in instrument conditions, a pilot must be instrument-rated, his plane must be properly equipped, and he must have a clearance from air traffic control.  He is not necessarily required to file a flight plan.  For example, instead of filing a flight plan, theContinue Reading NTSB Preliminary Report on Saratoga Crash at Pine Mountain Lake in Groveland, California

Lisa Krieger of the San Jose Mercury News writes on a variety of issues related to this crash: 

The runway at Pine Mountain Lake is oriented east-west, and is surrounded by rugged terrain.  In poor weather, pilots are permitted to execute instrument approaches to the airport.  The approach procedures guide pilots as they descend through the clouds to the runway.  The procedures, flown properly, will place the pilot in a position to land straight ahead without having to maneuver.  When the pilot pops out of the clouds after flying the instrument approach to Pine Mountain Lake, his view out of the windshield should be something like this:  

 Final Approach Runway 27 Pine Mountain Lake - Photo by austinpilot  

The procedure the pilot must follow when approaching from the east is set forth below.  A pilot may descend in the clouds no lower than 770 feet above the runway.  To descend further, the pilot mustContinue Reading Piper Saratoga Crash at Pine Mountain Lake Airport in Groveland, California

The initial investigation was conducted by local law enforcement in conjunction with the FAA. Now the National Transportation Safety Board will take over.

The NTSB’s job will be to examine the wreckage and attempt to determine if the crash was caused by a defective aircraft part, negligent maintenance, or pilot error. The NTSB concedes, however, that it lacks the manpower, the technical expertise, and the funding to do that job properly on its own. Therefore, as a matter of long-standing policy, it will seek engineering assistance from the companies that manufactured the aircraft components in question. In this case, the NTSB will recruit the help of Cessna Aircraft, which manufactured the aircraft involved in the accident, Cessna N5225J, and Teledyne Continental Motors, which manufactured each of the aircraft’s two 260 horsepower C-310 File Photo by Kensavition.comengines. The NTSB will exclude members of the victims’ families and their technical representatives from the investigation, feeling that they have nothing to offer. (Sad but true.)

Of course, the NTSB’s practice of asking the manufacturers for help – a practice it calls “the party system” — presents a conflict of interest.  After all, the manufacturers themselves might be the ones responsible for the accident. Some say that the NTSB’s party system is akin to asking the suspects for help in solving a crime. Nonetheless, the conflict – discussed further here – is ingrained in all NTSB investigations.

It’s no surprise that most NTSB final reports often favor the manufacturers who have “assisted” the NTSB investigators in their work. But perhaps it doesn’t make any difference because, by federal regulation, the NTSB’s probable cause findings are not binding on anyone. The families are free to conduct their own investigation, and in the event of a lawsuit, the NTSB’s conclusions are given no deference whatever. In fact, in the event of litigation, the NTSB conclusions are not even admissible. Aviation attorneys who conduct their own independent investigations find that the NTSB’s conclusions are wrong about 50% of the time.

In one recent example, a Teledyne Continental engine similar to those installed on N5225J quitContinue Reading Cessna 310 (Tesla) Crash at East Palo Alto: NTSB Probable Cause Investigation

One might think that a twin-engine aircraft is safer than a single-engine aircraft.  After all, if one engine fails, you still have the other to bring you home safely.  That’s the whole point of the second engine, right?

If one of the twin engines fails in cruise flight, maybe that’s true.  But if it quits right after takeoff, the twin can be extremely difficult to handle.  When the aircraft’s landing gear is down, its flaps set, and its airspeed just above the minimum flying speed, the asymetric thrust generated by the operating engine can flip the aircraft onto its back and out of control.  A "Vmc roll", as it is called, isContinue Reading Tesla Cessna 310 Crash at East Palo Alto: The Paradox of the Twin