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Cause of Minnesota Air Crash May be Operator Error
Clare Kennedy
Owatonna People's Press
7/31/2008

OWATONNA — Based on preliminary accounts of Thursday’s airplane crash at Owatonna Degner Regional Airport, an aviation expert believes that the crash was due to pilot error.

The plane, a Raytheon Hawker 800, carried eight passengers to their deaths on Thursday morning, after it crashed into a cornfield northwest of the airport.

The Hawker is usually a safe craft, said Gary C. Robb, an aviation attorney in Kansas City, Mo.

“This has been an inherently safe aircraft over the years,” Robb said. “It’s a mid-size jet twin-engine with a good safety record.”

Robb has practiced in this field for 27 years and has handled a number of high profile air crashes, including the family of Missouri Gov. Mel Carnahan, who died in a plane crash during a campaign for the U.S. Senate.

Robb said the Raytheon Hawker 800 is one of the most popular corporate jets. The Hawker’s maximum cruising speed is 800 kilometers per hour and it can fly as high as 41,000 feet.

“It’s a really good aircraft, and it is habitually professionally crewed,” Robb said. “It’s not one that amateurs normally fly.”

Robb said the crash was likely due to one of two things: Inaccurate information about weather conditions or pilot error.

The crash came on the heels of a violent thunderstorm with high winds and sheets of rain that roared through Steele County during the hour leading up to Thursday’s crash.

“The thing that jumps out to me is that you should never have the word ‘airplane’ and ‘80 miles per hour winds’ in the same sentence,” Robb said. “You have to then ask, was the weather information they were given accurate? And if it was, and they got information that they were flying into 80 miles an hour wind gusts, why did they fly into it notwithstanding? If that were the case that would be gross negligence.

” A hawker can handle 40 mph winds safely, Robb said. He said he thought that the pilot might have tried to skirt the edges of the storm. He estimates that 25 percent to 30 percent of his cases are weather-related.

However, Rare Aircraft President Roy Redman said that the strongest winds recorded at Degner on Thursday morning reached only 60 mph and even those had died down by the time the plane arrived.

“If the wind conditions were not as extreme as reported then what we have is an inexcusable and fatal pilot error,” Robb said.

Brian Mechura, a crewman with Rare Aircraft who witnessed the crash, said that the plane landed and was heading down the runway when it appeared to attempt a last-minute takeoff. But the plane seemed to stall: One of the wings tipped toward the ground and the plane went into a roll before crashing nose into the ground.

Redman said it was clear that the plane did not have enough air speed to fly. Robb said it was likely that in the initial landing the pilot came in too fast and was running out of runway.

“In that case you’re going to slam on your reverse thrusters, but if you don’t make it, you’ll run into trees or whatever else is in the way,” Robb said. “The second option is to attempt a second take off, but it seems the pilot lost control in an effort to try too steep of a climb.”

Robb said it appeared that the pilot made the wrong decision, with fatal consequences. Such miscalculations are not rare, Robb said.

“This is not an uncommon crash scenario in my experience,” Robb said. “But we have to remember this is not just a plane that crashed. These were human beings that had breakfast and brushed their teeth this morning.”

Clare Kennedy can be reached at 444-2376.




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