The NTSB chalks this mishap up to both pilots failing to positively identify a snow-covered runway prior to landing but it involved so much more than that. Both pilots obviously had no problem flying a Category C aircraft on an approach where Category C minimums were not authorized. But after the first approach led to a missed approach, the PIC forcefully talked the SIC into an unplanned circling approach that could not have been flown in a stable manner and probably left them with inadequate time to positively identify the runway. It is doubtful the SIC, who was the pilot flying, ever really saw the runway.
How could this happen? Crew coordination was obviously a factor. The pilot flying (PF) was the Second in Command (SIC) and was junior in experience: 36 years old, 3,520 hours total, 831 hours in type. The pilot not flying (PNF) was the Pilot in Command (PIC) and was senior: 42 years old, 4,800 hours, 1,038 hours in type.
But perhaps even worse than the poor instrument procedures and flawed crew coordination there was a tragic lack of flight discipline.
Everything here is from the references shown below, with a few comments in an alternate color.
Photo: N279AJ Wreckage, right side, from NTSB Accident Docket CEN09LA116.
Figure: KTEX LOC/DME Rwy 9 approach plate, from NTSB Accident Docket CEN09LA116.
Figure: N279AJ flight data recorder, from Group Chairman's Factual Report, NTSB CEN09LA116.
The airspeed during the circle (bottom red line) was clearly around 125 knots, well above the Category B maximum speed for circling at sea level; making a circling approach for this airplane at this airport illegal. Their true airspeed at the approach MDA (11,100') would have been 152 knots; making the decision to circle even more foolhardy.
[NTSB Aircraft Accident Docket, CEN09LA116, PF Statement]
[NTSB Aircraft Accident Docket, CEN09LA116, Cockpit Voice Recorder]
The PNF (HOT-2) spotted the runway on the first attempt and tried to coach the PF to the runway but she never saw it and they went missed. During the second approach they had this exchange:
On the second attempt they were at the MDA and had this exchange:
The MDA was 2,039' above the runway; they would have needed to spot the runway at 6.4 nm to have a normal 3° glide path. The FAF was 500' higher than the MDA but only 6.5 nm from the end of the runway. A stable instrument approach was impossible from the FAF at the published FAF altitude. As is typical with many approaches in mountainous areas, you need to spot the runway well before the final approach fix. This should be part of the approach briefing, you don't want to find yourself at minimums approaching the missed approach point and having to figure this out.
They did not brief a circling approach and a careful review of the approach plate would have revealed such a maneuver would be illegal for a Category C aircraft. The maximum circling approach area radii for a Category B aircraft under existing TERPS criteria would have been 1.5 nm.
More about this: Circling Approach Area.
At their existing true airspeed, their turn radius with 30° of bank would have been 5,500' making their turn diameter 11,000' or 1.81 nm. And this is based on rolling out on top of the runway without a stable approach. So the circling approach would have been impossible with less than 30° of bank, as we shall see . . .
The flight data recorder (shown above) indicates the bank angle reached 45° at several points.
As they rolled out the PNF spotted the runway . . .
In her post accident statement, the PF said she spotted the runway prior to landing. It is evident here she did not see the runway while below the MDA.
[NTSB Aircraft Accident Narrative, CEN09LA116] An on-scene investigation was conducted by a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) inspector. The initial examination of the area indicated that the airplane had touched down about 20-feet to the right, and off, the runway. Additionally, the airplane's wings were torn from the fuselage. The tail section had separated just aft of the engines. No pre-impact anomalies with the airframe and engines were detected during the investigation.
[NTSB Aircraft Accident Docket, CEN09LA116, Probable Cause Statement]
The airplane was destroyed; but it was a cheap airplane and nobody got seriously hurt so the NTSB didn't put a lot of effort into this investigation. They didn't issue a full report and the statement of probable cause was one sentence long. They could have done a lot better:
NTSB Aircraft Accident Docket, CEN09LA116
NTSB Aircraft Accident Narrative, CEN09LA116
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