New Report: Plane crashed into Trinity Bay at 500 mph, NTSB says

By Cory McCord - Digital News Editor, Rose-Ann Aragon - Reporter

New details were released Tuesday, shedding light on last month's deadly cargo plane crash in Trinity Bay.

On Feb. 23 about 12:40 p.m., a Boeing 767 that had left from  Miami crashed in Anahuac, about 40 miles southeast of its destination, George Bush Intercontinental Airport. All three people on board were killed. The bodies of Capt. Sean Archuleta and pilot Conrad Aska, of Miami, were recovered shortly after the crash. Human remains believed to be pilot Ricky Blakely, of Madison, Indiana, were also found.

Archuleta was catching a ride to Houston. He was scheduled to fly another aircraft upon his arrival, according to Mesa Airlines.

Family Photo/CCSO

From left to right: Sean Archuleta, Conrad Aska and Ricky Blakely.

A new NTSB report was released Tuesday that says the plane descended from 6,000 feet at nearly 500 mph before crashing.

The pilots on board had 16,000 hours of combined flight experience.

"Both of them were qualified pilots. Both of them had commercial experience in commercial air crafts. They were type rated in commercial air crafts. Their experience was good," said Josh Verde, a former pilot and aviation instructor with more than 20 years of experience under his belt.

The cargo plane, which was contracted by Amazon, was 27 years old, the NTSB said. The plane had flown more than 91,000 hours.

The report also said that flight data indicated that the plane entered turbulence.

NTSB

The final probable cause report is expected to be released in 2020.

Officials said the debris field was oriented east to west and was about 350 yards long by about 200 yards wide. An engine and some landing gear components were found beyond the main debris field.

Most of the cargo and less dense wreckage components floated south and were found up to 20 miles away, the report said.

The report said the flight was normal for Miami to the Houston terminal area. The pilots contacted the arrival controller about 12:30 p.m. About five minutes later, the controller asked the pilots if they wanted to detour in order to avoid light to heavy precipitation along their flight route.

"Based on what we do know about the weather in the area at the time, nothing stands out to me as being so significant as to cause this level of a loss of control of a plane that size," Verde said.

PHOTOS: Debris from deadly cargo plane crash

About 12:37 p.m., the controller directed the pilots around the weather, and about a minute later, he told them they would clear the weather in about 18 miles. The pilots responded, "Sounds good" and "OK," the report said. Around this time is when the report says the plane entered turbulence.

About this time, the report says the plane pitch increased to about 4 degrees nose up before pitching nose down at about a 49-degree angle for the next 18 seconds. The stall warning did not activate, the report says.

Data indicates the plane entered a rapid descent and reached an airspeed of about 430 knots. This situation had aviation professionals like Verde concerned that something went wrong.

"I can't think of a normal situation at that altitude that a pilot would go to maximum thrust at that altitude," Verde said. "The level of experience here is good. I think these are qualified pilots and, with that in mind, it was confusing to read the engines were increased to maximum thrust and that the aircraft was pitched nose down."

Verde said it raised some major questions.

A security camera recorded the airplane in a steep descent until impact.

"What caused the nose down deflector? Was it a column input or was it an autopilot servo issue?" Verde said.

Whether it be an autopilot issue or an issue with the pilot himself, Verde said more can likely be understood once the cockpit voice recorder transcripts are released.

"Once we have a chance to review the cockpit voice recorder, we can hear what happened in the cockpit. Perhaps we can get a few more questions answered about the flight itself by the NTSB. We'll have a clearer picture," Verde said.

A cockpit voice recorder group was convened and will complete a transcript of the entire crash. The transcript will be released when the public docket is opened.

For more information on the report, click here.

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