Learjet Lost to Lax Safety

The Final Flight of N452DA

Security video image of N452DA at ground impact. Source: National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB)

Introduction

The tragic story of the Learjet 35A, N452DA, which crashed on May 15, 2017, serves as a stark reminder of the fundamental truth in aviation: the critical importance of following safety procedures.1 This devastating incident, a stark consequence of lax safety, leads us to delve deeper into the specific errors and decisions that precipitated the tragedy of N452DA.

N452DA in her better days. Source: PlaneSpotters.Net. Fair use.

Yet, behind this tragic turn from routine to catastrophe lies a series of crucial missteps. Let’s explore these errors and their profound impact.

A Flight Ended in Tragedy

Departing from Philadelphia, N452DA was bound for Teterboro Airport in New Jersey. What began as a routine flight ended in catastrophe, with the plane crashing into a building and parking lot. The loss of both pilots in this accident was a heartrending outcome.

But it was a relief that there were no casualties on the ground.1

However, the tragedy in the air was not mere chance, but the result of a cascade of avoidable mistakes and overlooked safety measures.

A Cascade of Missteps

This tragedy was the culmination of a series of avoidable mistakes, emphasizing the severe consequences of neglecting safety measures. Key oversights by the pilots included:

  • Failing to reevaluate weather conditions.
  • Submitting an inconsistent flight plan.
  • Crucially, allowing a less experienced pilot to take control, in violation of company policy.

These lapses in judgment and adherence to procedures were direct contributors to the loss of control during a crucial phase of the flight.1

The Price of Lax Safety and Ignoring Safety Protocols

Lax safety. Photo of burnt engine in parking lot.
Engine from N452DA following the accident2

The National Transportation Safety Board’s (NTSB) investigation revealed a critical lesson: ignoring established safety protocols can have devastating consequences.

The failure to follow basic safety checks and allowing an inexperienced pilot to control the plane were significant factors in this tragedy. This incident underscores the non-negotiable importance of strict adherence to safety procedures in aviation.

Aftermath

Following its investigation, the NTSB made the following recommendations:

  1. Improve Training Programs: The NTSB advised that flight operators should develop special training and oversight programs. These programs are for pilots who have shown they need extra help or made errors in their training, ensuring they get the guidance they need to improve.
  2. Train for Better Teamwork: They also suggested that operators should have better training programs focusing on crew resource management. This means teaching flight crews how to work together more effectively and communicate better, which is crucial for safe flight operations.
  3. Updated Manuals for Specific Aircraft: The NTSB recommended checking the instruction manuals of Learjet 35A planes. They wanted to make sure these manuals include specific guidelines about flying speeds in different wind conditions, as recommended by the aircraft manufacturer. If this information was missing, operators were encouraged to update their manuals.

Conclusion

The fate of N452DA is a somber reminder of the life-and-death stakes inherent in aviation. It reinforces the idea that safety protocols in this field are not mere recommendations, but vital safeguards.

This incident serves as a compelling call to action for the aviation industry, emphasizing the essential role of strict adherence to safety standards in protecting lives both in the skies and on the ground.1

See also: Rising Above Turbulence: The Transformative Years of Lear Jet Industries Inc.

1 “Accident Report Detail,” National Transportation Safety Board, last modified May 15, 2017, accessed December 15, 2023, https://www.ntsb.gov/investigations/Pages/CEN17MA183.aspx.

2 “Bureau of Aircraft Accidents Archives. ‘Crash of a Learjet 35A in Teterboro: 2 Killed.’ May 15, 2017. https://www.baaa-acro.com/crash/crash-learjet-35a-teterboro-2-killed.” Fair use.

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