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NTSB Searches for Causes of Plane Crash Near Denver

Aired January 28, 2001 - 7:13 p.m. ET


BRIAN NELSON, CNN ANCHOR: All right, we want to take you now to a press conference by the National Transportation Safety Board. It's underway in Strasburg, Colorado, next door to the crash site in Byers, Colorado, where that small plane carrying 10 people, crashed yesterday. It was carrying two members of the Oklahoma State basketball team, as well as six staffers from the Oklahoma State University in their sports department, as well as a pilot and a co- pilot. The investigators arrived on the scene today in Byers and immediately began their investigation. The plane went down in snowy weather.

And let's listen into what they have found so far.

JOHN HAMMERSCHMIDT, NTSB: We have been holding an organizational meeting at the Strasburg Fire Hall just a few blocks from here. It began later than we had anticipated and we're running just about that amount of time behind schedule.

It is -- it was still basically going on in terms of loose end type work when we left to come over here. As I might mention, as we were concluding the more formal aspect of the meeting, the investigator in charge, who is the one who is responsible for this investigation, and that is Mr. Robert Benson (ph) right here. He turned to me and asked if there was anything I would like to mention or to add before everyone went their different directions.

And I would just like to reiterate what I said then here publicly, and that is sort of a housekeeping note. Since we have arrived here, including our investigator who arrived here last night, the support and cooperation we have received from the Strasburg Fire Department, from the Adams County Sheriff's Department, from the County Coroner, from the Salvation Army, and from the American Red Cross has just been beyond excellent. You could not ask for any greater support or cooperation or effort for an accident investigation in these somewhat inclement conditions than we've received.

And so, I just would like again to publicly thank all of them. And I may be forgetting someone, but those just came to mind because we certainly have been treated very well in terms of our investigative team.

And of course, that's why I'm here, is to describe where the investigation is as of about 5:17 p.m. here in Colorado. We had about two dozen people in our organizational meeting. I might mention again, I referenced this briefly out at the accident site, but when the NTSB conducts any investigation including, of course, aviation investigations. We do it in a set way. We -- first, we organize the investigation. We typically do it into different groups -- working groups.

This investigation will be a little less formal than some of the more prominent airline investigations because we don't have quite as many people who are joining our investigation. In other words like I mentioned, we have approximately two dozen at the meeting tonight, as compared to maybe a major airline investigation might have well over 100 people.

But anyway, that was the purpose of tonight's organizational meeting, was to make sure everyone understands the ground rules that our investigator processes operate within. And I had referenced earlier today some of the specialists who are here working under the direction of Mr. Benson, the investigator in charge. We have specialists in these different investigative disciplines. They would be power plants. They would be airworthiness or traffic control, weather and let's see -- and operations, of course.

What I would like to do is go through what each of these different groups reported to the larger group this evening. And as such, if you all -- in terms of factual information be hearing exactly what we heard. Now there has been no time or effort to analyze any of this information. It is strictly what has been reported just a few minutes ago, virtually.

The power plants group reported that these -- that the two engines on this accident aircraft were manufactured by Pratt and Whitney Canada. They are model PT6-41A, turbo prop engines. This group indicated that the primary goal that they had today was to confirm that there were two engines, two props and six propeller blades in the wreckage at the accident site. And there are. So that was confirmed. They plan on more closely examining the two engines tomorrow. That is their work plan for tomorrow.

And the next group that reported was what I call this afternoon the air worthiness group. Sometimes that's considered to be the aircraft structures and aircraft systems group, but we're calling it air worthiness. They reported that the first order of business for them tomorrow was to be obtaining or starting a process of obtaining some good aerial photographs of the debris field, so that they can get an excellent overview of that debris field, of where the wreckage is scattered.

They, of course, also plan to survey the debris field, which is to say to map it, pinpoint where each piece of wreckage is in a sophisticated survey. That group chairman from the Safety Board indicated that he thought that the debris field was about a mile in length. Again, that has not been measured. That's just an estimate.

This working group made some preliminary observations of fracture surfaces, of metal components, metal that had fractured. And they plan to more closely examine those fractured surfaces once they can get them in a better setting to do that examination, which should be a hangar. I'm not exactly sure where this heated hangar is located, but...

Greeley, OK -- located in Greeley, we're told about 50 miles from here. And this group plans to spend at least three days working in this hangar. And among the other tasks that they will perform is -- are certain two dimensional mockups. In other words, on the hangar floor of these components.

This group indicated that they needed the maintenance records sent to them. After the three days' work in the hangar, they indicated that -- or this group chairman indicated that his group should need another three days here on scene to write up the investigative, on-scene notes of their examinations and findings and documentation.

I ask this group about the de-icing booths on the King Air, the accident airplane. The indication was that there are pieces of the de-icing booths around throughout the wreckage or in the debris field, I should say. And this king air had de-icing booths on the leading edges of the wings and the horizontal stabilizer.

I'd like to go next to the weather group. This group had a lot of detailed weather information. And you'll need to bear with me because I'll be reading part of it. But they got the weather at the departure airport, Jeffco Airport at -- is it Broomfield?


HAMMERSCHMIDT: Broomfield; OK. Now I will just give you that weather. This would be at 4:58 p.m., Mountain Standard Time. And the airplane, which I will get to in a moment, is documented as having taken off approximately 5:19 p.m., Mountain Standard Time.

So the weather at Jeffco Airport at 4:58 p.m. was winds variable at 3 knots, visibility 1 mile, light snow, ceiling obscured, vertical visibility 200 feet, temperature of minus 4 degrees Centigrade. And the significance that was mentioned -- that was attached to this particular observation, this weather observation, was that indicates that this group wants to go and check and see if de-icing was performed on the aircraft before departure because the prevailing conditions.

In terms of in-flight weather advisories, this group reported or our weather group chairman reported that there were no convective signets (ph), i.e. no thunderstorm, significant weather being issued, and no signets, again significant weather information being issued for severe icing or severe turbulence. In other words, no thunderstorm signets and no signets for severe icing or severe turbulence.

There were a set of airmets (ph) though. Airmets would be general airman's weather information, just to the general pilot community. I'll read two of these airmets. Airmet Zulu -- that's just its designation -- Airmet Zulu for occasional moderate rhyme (ph) to mixed icing in clouds and a precipitation below 22,000 feet. Airmet Tango was issued for light, occasional, moderate turbulence below 18,000 feet. This group also mentioned that there were pilot reports that confirmed turbulence which ranged from continuous light to occasional moderate, from the surface to 35,000 feet. The pilot reports were from air carrier jet aircraft. There was one pilot report over Limon, Colorado -- am I pronouncing it right -- 60 miles -- approximately 60 miles east of the accident site. A report of moderate chop between 24,000 to 26,000 feet reported.

Tomorrow this weather group is going to reconstruct the weather radar data in order to determine the weather that the plane was flying through. In other words, we're going to determine the environmental conditions that the aircraft was experiencing in flight.

Going next to the operations group, this group reported that they will be on the road a lot the next few days, maybe the next several days. Tomorrow morning first thing in the morning, they're going to Jeffco Airport again in Broomfield, Colorado. They plan to talk to any line personnel and talk with any pilots who may have had any conversations with the flight crew of the accident airplane or who service the airplane. They also plan to obtain a fuel sample while there.

As was mentioned, the accident aircraft preliminarily has indicated as taking -- as having taken off at 5:19 Mountain Standard Time from Jeffco Airport. And to close the loop on that flight in terms of times, preliminary or radar data indicate that the accident or the impact of the airplane occurred in the vicinity of 5:37 Mountain Standard Time.

Now again, that is not -- we will be probably refining that. So that's preliminary ballpark data in terms of minutes and seconds. This operations group again intends to, among other things, talk with the accident aircraft owner. They intend to ascertain who exactly --

NELSON: At this moment, we want to take the opportunity to say good-bye to our international viewers; and for our domestic viewers, we will continue with this news conference in Strasburg, Colorado by the National Transportation Safety Board into the plane crash involving members of the Oklahoma State University basketball team.

HAMMERSCHMIDT: ... definitely wish to confirm that. This operations group wishes to talk to pilots who flew the accident airplane recently. They want to talk -- they also wish to interview pilots who had flown with the pilots who were aboard the accident airplane; in other words, the flight crew. And they also want to talk to yet another set of pilots, and that would be the pilots of the other two airplanes that had Oklahoma State University personnel onboard that departed in the vicinity of the King Air.

Among other rationales for that is to, of course, get some corroborating evidence in terms of what the weather was, according to this -- according to the flight crews, the citation and the Lear jet.

As standard investigative procedure, this operations group will collect all flight manuals, all airplane manuals, any pertinent information related to the airplane or the operation. And the printed information, they want to have to look at and study.

In terms of witness statements, it was mentioned in the meeting that there was, I believe, a member of the local fire department who lives just a few miles from the accident site and had heard the -- thought he heard the airplane fly over his house immediately before the accident. I believe the indication was that he did not see it, but had heard it. We intend to interview that person.

All right; the final group, in terms of the working groups would be the air traffic control group. This group was out interviewing the controllers who handled the accident flight during today -- during this afternoon. This accident flight was conducted under instrument flight rules. And I have some very early information from the Federal Aviation Administration's air traffic control that provides a certain timeline to the accident flight.

I must emphasize that the following information is very early information, almost first-cut information, and subject to refinements. At -- and I will convert these times to Mountain Standard Time -- at 5:18 Mountain Standard Time the accident aircraft, or flight crew received a departure clearance from Jeffco Airport's tower controller. The airplane took off on a heading of zero-four-zero degrees, climbed to 8,000 feet. At approximately 5:20 to 5:21 Mountain Standard Time air traffic control was switched -- switched the airplane to the Denver tracon (ph) -- in other words, from tower controller to Denver tracon.

Denver tracon cleared the flight to flight level two-three-zero, which means approximately 23,000 feet. According to radar data, the airplane was level at flight level two-three-zero for a period of time -- don't have exact minutes on that right now. At that point control of the aircraft was transferred to Denver center -- in other words, from Denver tracon to Denver center, the route traffic control center.

When air traffic control made that transfer, the aircraft never acknowledged that hand off from tracon to center. At 5:35, air traffic control lost radio and radar contact with the airplane.

That pretty much concludes what was gathered at our organizational meeting. Another housekeeping note: This fire hall is -- Strasburg Fire Hall -- is going to serve as our command post, and we do have a press phone line there that will be manned, not throughout the day, but for a good part of the day by Mr. Paul Schlem (ph). Let me give you that number: It's 303-622-4466.

And I am told that this location here will be the venue for future press availabilities; the next one anticipated...

NELSON: OK, you've been listening to a very, very detailed briefing by the National Transportation Safety Board. It seems to have accomplished a lot in its first days studying the crash of that small King Air plane carrying 10 members of the Oklahoma State basketball team -- onboard were two members of that basketball team, as well as eight others including the pilot and the copilot.

That investigation will continue, and at this time the state of Stillwater, Oklahoma remains in mourning.



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