NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — Two pilots of a small jet scrambled to keep the plane airborne last year before a fiery crash at a New Jersey airport, surprising air traffic controllers by making a sharp turn closer to the airport than is customary, federal investigative files reveal.
The Learjet crashed into office buildings short of the runway at Teterboro Airport last May, killing the pilot and co-pilot and damaging three buildings and more than a dozen vehicles.
On Wednesday, the National Transportation Safety Board released numerous files from its investigation. The board has not yet released a final report pinpointing a cause of the crash.
The plane had taken off from Philadelphia International Airport shortly after 3 p.m. on May 15 for Teterboro, a small airport catering to private jets that sits about 8 miles north of Newark Liberty International Airport.
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On the transcript, an air traffic controller notices the plane is about 1 1/2 miles from Teterboro, closer than the 4 miles planes usually begin a turn if they are circling to land on one of the airport’s two runways.
“You gonna start that turn?” the controller asks the pilots at about 3:29 p.m., according to the transcript.
“Yeah, sir, we’re doing it right now,” one of the pilots responds.
The transcript details a tense exchange between the pilot and co-pilot about 20 seconds later.
“I’m gonna give you your controls, OK?” one says.
“Alright, my controls,” the other responds.
“Your flight controls.”
“(Expletive) eh,” the second pilot says in what the transcript describes as an angry tone.
About 15 seconds later the plane crashed, sending fire and thick black smoke shooting hundreds of feet into the air.
One controller told investigators that he saw the plane make a right turn so extreme that he could see the plane’s entire underbelly. Another said the turn was not standard for that kind of approach and that it looked “kind of wobbly” and “hard and kind of forced.”
Winds were gusting at more than 30 mph in the area that day, the investigation revealed. According to the files released on Wednesday, a different inbound plane just prior to the crash had requested a “go-around,” a maneuver pilots perform when they abort a landing and go back up to try again, due to winds or other factors.
Toxicology tests on both pilots found no traces of drugs.