One photograph from the National Transportation Safety Board shows the Gulfstream G-IV’s cockpit; burned and blackened after a takeoff went wrong on a cool May night at Hanscom Field in Massachusetts.
The exterior paint on the front of the plane containing the cockpit was left intact in the private jet crash that claimed the lives of longtime Temple trustee Lewis Katz, 72, and six others on May 31.
The rest of the plane appears charred in photos of the accident site, part of about 800 pages of information in the NTSB report on the crash, released last week following months of investigation.
Witnesses and emergency crews told media outlets on the scene that the plane rolled down past the end of the runway before crashing into a gulley and erupting in flames.
“I watched it roll down the runway at high speed,” wrote Chris Merrill, who works at Hanscom Field. “It appeared to gain little or no altitude.”
The report did not confirm the cause of the accident. That will come in a later briefing this fall, according to the Inquirer.
Still, much of the available documents point to pilot error and issues with the gust lock – a device which holds down the wing flaps, tail flaps and rudder to prevent wind damage to them while the plane is parked. The Gulfstream G-IV includes a failsafe system which normally does not allow the plane to reach takeoff speeds while the components, which are vital to maneuvering and takeoff, are locked. This is achieved through restricting movement of the throttle.
But, even though the gust lock lever was in the “disengaged” position – which would allow for movement of the flaps and the rudder – all three remained locked, NTSB investigators found.
A transcript from the cockpit’s voice recorder shows that the pilots, Jim McDowell, 61, and Bauke de Vries, 45, realized the parts were locked after it was too late.
“Steer lock is on,” one repeats seven times. “I can’t stop it,” says another voice. “Oh, no no,” before the sound of impact.
The report also shows that a pair of aviator sunglasses was found in the gust lock console, which may have altered the movement. A pin in the lever was found to be broken as well.
Gulfstream told pilots in August to be sure to always follow proper unlocking procedures before turning on the engines, since the throttle might still be movable.
Adam Amer, who had co-piloted the plane with de Vries on multiple occasions and flown Gulfstream planes for 24 years, told NTSB investigators that the engine must be shut down if it is started after the gust lock is not released.
Other victims in the crash included Marcella Dalsey, 59, the board president of KATZ Academy Charter School; Anne Leeds, 74, the wife of James Leeds, commissioner of Longport, NJ; and Susan K. Asbell, 68, a leader of the Boys & Girls Club of Camden County, New Jersey.
Flight attendant Teresa Ann Benhoff, 48, was also on board. There were no survivors.
Dalsey and Leeds’ families are filing lawsuits against Katz’s LLC which owned the plane and a friend who owned the jet, as well as Gulfstream and makers of the plane’s parts.
Katz died in the crash just four days after he and trustee H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest won an auction for Interstate General Media – the company which owns the Inquirer, Daily News and philly.com – beating South Jersey Democratic powerbroker George Norcross and other owners with an $88 million bid.
“One party got a wonderful return on his investment,” Katz said after the auction, according to the Inquirer. “And the other party has the privilege to give the newspaper … all it deserves.”
Katz, who was chair of Temple’s Board of Trustees’ athletics committee, was also a former owner of the NBA’s New Jersey Nets and NHL’s New Jersey Devils. His son Drew has since taken his seat on the board and a position on the athletics committee.
Joe Brandt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.