By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE pilots of the Learjet that crashed and killed all nine on board in Grand Bahama last year disabled the plane’s “terrain awareness warning system” when it warned them they were flying too low and deliberately failed to adhere to standard procedures, according to the official aircraft accident report of the incident.
One of the pilots said “ah, shut up” before disabling the terrain awareness warning system (TAWS) when it was advising them that they were “too low” and needed to “pull up,” according to an analysis of the cockpit voice recorder (CVC).
The plane was carrying Dr Myles Munroe, his wife, Ruth, and other members of Bahamas Faith Ministries International to a global leadership conference in Grand Bahama when it crashed into a junkyard crane in bad weather on November 9. According to the report one of the pilots exclaimed “climb, climb, climb” just before impact with the crane.
The picture painted by the report – by the Air Accident Investigation and Prevention Unit (AAIPU) of the Civil Aviation Department – depicts pilots who, despite their experience and clean performance histories, made a series of inexplicable decisions that ultimately doomed the flight.
The accident report, a copy of which has been obtained by The Tribune, said the crew flew below the minimum required altitude and that the pilots withheld this information from Air Traffic Control (ATC) while trying to navigate through poor visibility.
Investigators said the crew lacked crew resources management (CRM), a set of training procedures used in environments where human error could have fatal consequences.
The crew’s landing attempts were also “unstabilised” during both their first and second approaches, meaning that they exceeded the average rate of descent for planes.
“Notwithstanding the unstabilised approach flown in this case,” investigators said, “a properly trained and experienced pilot, who is vigilant and alert, should have been able to land the airplane successfully. Both pilots were trained properly and had sufficient
experience to prepare them to complete a safe landing following an unstabilised approach.”
Investigators said that a “strong motivator and psychological factor” acting on the crew was the “presence of and need of VIPs on board to get to Freeport that evening.”
The release of the accident report comes as the family of Diego DeSantiago, an American citizen, has said it will sue Diplomat Aviation, the company under which the Learjet was registered, for damages.
Investigators said “the accident was not survivable for any of the nine people on board the flight because of severe impact forces and destruction of the airplane during the crash sequence.”
Toxicology tests performed on the pilots turned up negative results for “amphetamines, opiates, marijuana, cocaine, phencyclidine, benzodiazepines, barbiturates, antidepressants and antihistamines.”
Both pilots were licenced and certified by the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and in possession of valid first class medical certificates as required by regulations. They held a medical certificate that said they “must wear corrective lens.”
As of November, the captain, Stanley Thurston, 62, reported over 13,500 hours in the air. His co-pilot, Frankan Cooper, 35, reported pilot hours of 1,020.
FAA records of both men indicated that no prior accidents, violations or enforcement actions ever took place against either man.
However, the report said: “From training records reviewed, no evidence of crew resource management (CRM) could be established as having been completed during the latest recurrent retraining.”
The report says: “It became apparent during the investigation that the crew intentionally went well below the published glideslope during their approach and withheld this information from ATC. There is evidence that the lack of CRM contributed to this accident.
“There were no standard cockpit management procedures being followed during the last 30 minutes of the flight. The (pilot in charge) appeared more passive and the (second in charge) was more commanding in issuing instructions of what was going on at the time. There is strong evidence that came from the CVR recording that indicate that one of the pilots wilfully disabled the terrain awareness warning system (TAWS) while it was alerting them to the presence of ‘terrain’ and advising them that they were ‘too low’ and to ‘pull up.’
“Despite advising ATC of their altitude as 2,000 feet (on approach), the aircraft was actually at 1,000 feet and descending looking for the runway visually and not on the glideslope approach as approved by ATC. Additionally, the aircraft never entered or held at the published holding position or altitude as they advised ATC they were doing.
“The aircraft also never maintained the authorised altitude as they made the approach from the area of the holding position toward the airport. Radar data from Miami Centre supports this assertion. CVR recording also supports this assertion during the final minutes of the flight after departing the area of the holding position.
“As Freeport International Airport does not have radar in which to detect and verify aircraft position, there was no way for controllers to know an aircraft was not in fact at the position or altitude they reported.”
“The descent into Freeport area and the approach for landing was not flown on the specified altitude required for this approach on the first or second attempt for landing,” the report said.
“The crew continued descent below the minimum required altitude despite warnings from the TAWS system that they were below the glide slope.”
The report said that Diplomat Aviation Ltd failed to turn over to investigators the records of the pilots in time for the report’s publication, despite claiming to have them.
The report said the Grand Bahama Shipyard sustained minimum damage to its crane and that surrounding areas also reported minimal damage.
However, a generator unit and equipment in the adjacent recycling plant of City Services Ltd received extensive damage. The damage, according to management personnel of the organisation, exceeds $1m.