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NTSB Prepares to Investigate Charter Plane Crash in Pennsylvania Which Killed 19 People

Aired May 21, 2000 - 5:32 p.m. ET


GENE RANDALL, CNN ANCHOR: This is Gene Randall in Washington with the latest now in today's fatal twin-engine plane crash near Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. We expect to hear from George Black, National Transportation Board member.


GEORGE BLACK, NTSB: ... is launching its go team, its aviation go team to the part 135 accident near Bear Lake, Pennsylvania, I think is the closest city that I know. We'll be launching I believe 13 persons from here, we'll also be having some Federal Aviation Administration people to go with us on the airplane. The airplane belongs to the FAA, by the way. What we know about this accident at this particular point is that the time of occurrence is 11:48 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time this morning.

The airplane is a Jetstream 31, manufactured by British Aerospace. It is a two-engine turbo prop airplane. They're in very common usage in commuter airlines. You can go out to Dulles and see all of them you want at any time. It's owner of record is Executive Airlines. They're headquartered on Long Island. This was a part 135, a federal aviation regulation part 135 charter operation that originated in Atlantic City. The weather at the time of the accident was reported as the wind from 230 degrees at three knots, visibility two and a half miles with mist, a 300-feet broken ceiling and a 500- foot obscured ceiling, solid ceiling.

The airplane was attempting an instrument landing system approach to runway four at Wilkes-Barre. It missed its first approach and was attempting a second approach when the accident occurred. There is some indications on the air traffic control tapes that they were encountering engine problems during the first approach and those continued into the second attempt.

Our current information indicates there were 19 persons on board, that would include the crew. There was a post collision -- or post crash fire. We do have the cockpit voice recorder, which is apparently the only sort of data recorder required on this sort of operation. The Pennsylvania State Police have secured the scene until our arrival. We've been in contact with the Luzerne County coroner and medical examiner. And that's about all I have right now.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE ) ... anything about the passengers on board? You said they came from Atlantic City. Were they gamblers, or -- I mean, do you know anything about their identities?

BLACK: I do not. We do have a manifest with a list and we have our family affairs people that will be launching on this accident, and we will be handling this as we usually do with regard to families.

QUESTION: And what about -- you said there were engine problems. Did they lose the engine?

BLACK: We're waiting on a transcript from the air traffic control tape to find out exactly what it is. What I have right now is heresy and I'd rather not tell you about that.

QUESTION: Where exactly was the plane coming from?

BLACK: I understand the flight originated in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) two-engine planes?

BLACK: I can't hear you.

QUESTION: Sir, yes, could you hold your answer until the train goes?

BLACK: Sure.

QUESTION: Thank you, sir.

BLACK: Good, no problem.


QUESTION: You said earlier Jet -- the type of plane was a Jet Stream 31, two-engine prop plane?

BLACK: Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Any particular problems with these kinds of planes in the past?

BLACK: It's -- not to my knowledge. I don't -- it doesn't have a history of being an airplane with problems to my knowledge. In other words, there haven't been any since I've been here and there are a lot of them in operation. Again, it's a very common short-haul -- as a matter of fact, I have a reservation on one for Tuesday afternoon to go to Cleveland, if I make it.

QUESTION: What about the families, have they been notified yet?

BLACK: I believe they were congregating at some local government facility there in Wilkes-Barre and we will -- we have people with us who will be going to talk to them just as soon as we get there.

QUESTION: So they have been notified and they're already on their... BLACK: I don't know that I'd say they've been notified. I think there were probably people there waiting on the airplane and those people are being taken care of by the local government, I think the fire department.

QUESTION: So how optimistic are you once you get to the scene that you will be able to find some answers?

BLACK: That we would what?

QUESTION: How optimistic are you that you're going to be able to find answers to -- I know it's early -- to what happened?

BLACK: Well, we try our best and usually we can find the probable cause of an accident, but it's really too early to speculate. This airplane, if it does not have a flight data recorder, then it is missing one of the things that we usually have in an air accident investigation. That's the thing that requires -- that records air speed and power production from the engine, any number of parameters that help.

If we only have the flight -- or the cockpit voice recording, we will know what the pilots were talking about and what procedures they were following, but we will not have any direct read out on engine power and things of that nature. We will have, though, radar data that will give us some indication of air speed and that sort of thing. And we need to cut it short here, because they are waiting on us to leave.

QUESTION: What was the communication between the crew and the air traffic before the crash?

BLACK: There was some indication that they were having engine problems during the first approach, the one that was missed, in other words, they went around and tried it again, and those engine difficulties apparently continued during the missed approach and during the second approach. That's all we have right now. Maybe tomorrow morning we'll have a bit more on that. And I need to go. Thank you very much.

RANDALL: Board member George Black from the national Transportation Safety Board which now, of course, is investigating today's fatal twin-engine plane crash near Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.

Here with me in the studio is Carl Rochelle from CNN, he is a certified commercial pilot, a flight instructor.

Carl, a couple of brief questions. First, tell us what you know about this charter operation and the rules that governed it, and also more about this approach situation.

CARL ROCHELLE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: OK, the first thing is, part 135, and the FAA throws out a lot of numbers like that for operation, but what it tells you is that it is less strict than a scheduled airline, and that's one of the reasons that you see with part 135 you wouldn't have to have both a cockpit voice recorder and a flight data recorder.

So there may not be a flight data recorder on that aircraft, wouldn't know for sure until they pull it out, because it could have been used in another kind of operation.

RANDALL: And interpret what he told us about these twin approaches.

ROCHELLE: All right, he made first one approach into the airport, an instrument landing system approach, that means precision guidance both straight ahead and for the angle of going down. At the end of the approach, he did what's called a missed approach, he didn't have the airport in sight, he went up and around.

He did indicate that he had some engine problems going in, but it could have been weather also, because the weather was -- ceiling obscured at 1,500 feet. That's like looking up into cotton. At 300 feet you still had a broken ceiling, which means more than 50 percent of the area was covered with clouds at that point. The decision at height on that particular approach is 300 feet, so there were clouds right down at the bottom. It could have been weather, it could have been the engines, but he went out and started to back around for a second approach.

Nine miles from the airport he was just about beginning that approach when apparently the engines quit, whatever happened, and the plane went down.

RANDALL: And, Carl, as usual in cases like this there are lots more questions than answers at this point.

ROCHELLE: Absolutely, and it will be a while before -- there are some leads with the reports about the engines having problems, but that's all there are at this point.

RANDALL: Carl Rochelle, thanks very much.

And that's it from here.

"BOTH SIDES WITH JESSE JACKSON" we join in progress.



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