Posted Aug 2, 2023 8:03 PM ET
The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board logo is seen during a press conference at the National Transportation Safety Board headquarters in Washington, December 18, 2017. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)
Weather conditions deteriorated rapidly before a plane crashed in southern California last month, killing all six people on board, federal investigators said Wednesday.
The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board released a preliminary report into the July 8 crash near Murrieta, with new details that added to the question of whether pilots could see the runway as they tried to escape. ‘to land.
The NTSB said the Cessna 550 business jet struck the ground 800 feet (240 meters) from the runway threshold at French Valley Airport and burst into flames.
The airport’s automated weather station recorded clear skies and visibility of 10 miles less than an hour before the crash, but 20 minutes later there were clouds at 300 feet (90 meters) and visibility had dropped to three-quarters of a mile. The NTSB said visibility was only half a mile in the fog at the time of the crash.
The plane was making its second landing attempt after a missed approach, which usually happens when pilots cannot see the runway. Air traffic controllers gave the crew clearance to proceed with the second attempt.
John Cox, a former airline pilot and now an aviation safety consultant, said visibility should be half a mile at major airports with bright runway lights. A smaller airport with less powerful lighting makes it even more difficult to see the runway, he said.
Cox called it a “major error” that the private plane descended below the minimum height at which pilots must be able to see the ground at the airport.
“The fact that they were below minimums and landed before (the runway) is evidence that they didn’t have the runway in sight,” he said.
Cox said the crew should have tried to land at another airport.
The NTSB has not yet determined the cause of the accident. It will probably take a year or more.
Two pilots and four passengers were returning from a five-hour visit to Las Vegas when the accident occurred.
Local authorities identified the pilots as Riese Lenders, 25, and Manuel Vargas-Regalado, 32; and passengers Abigail Tellez-Vargas, 33, Lindsey Gleich, 31, Alma Razick, 51, and Ibrahem Razick, 46.
Murrieta is about 80 miles southeast of Los Angeles.