NTSB: Pilot in Rochester plane crash likely ‘disoriented’ by fog

rochester_crash

It took nearly four years, but the National Transportation Safety Board has now closed its investigation into how four people on the way home from a Packers-Vikings game ended up upside down in an airplane in Rochester.

Scott Lebovitz, 23, of Owatonna, and three passengers Daniel Cronk, 36; Alan De Keyrel, 38; and a 9-year-old boy, all from Byron — suffered only bumps and bruises in the December 2012 crash.

The NTSB’s conclusion wasn’t much of a surprise (see NewsCut: “How Planes Crash” – 12/12/12) as one of the passengers had already published a first-person account of the accident in which he says he never saw the runway as the plane descended through fog.

We were 30-40 miles from Rochester when discussions about the weather became more serious. Planes were being diverted due to heavy fog. The air traffic controller suggested Dodge Center or Waseca as a “clear” option. After a brief discussion, we decided that Dodge Center would be a smart choice.

Our pilot, Scott, called up weather information for Dodge Center only to discover conditions had worsened. It was no longer an option to land in Dodge Center. Rochester Tower chimed in again and asked us what we wanted to do. ATC suggested Austin while we pondered our options. We joked about heading to Owatonna and hitting up happy hour at Applebees while we waited for our wives to come pick us up. Ultimately, the smart choice was Austin.

Just as we turned, a Citation flying a few thousand feet below us decided to attempt landing in Rochester. I watched out the window as the Citation disappeared into the clouds toward the barely visible flashing runway approach lights. ATC then reported that they had successfully landed and asked us what we wanted to do. In the blink of an eye, Scott decided to attempt the landing. We turned towards Runway 13.

In its final report, the NTSB said the pilot likely became disoriented in the clouds and darkness and had difficulty following his flight instruments:

The weather and light conditions at the time of the accident and the pilot’s maneuvering during the approach were conducive to the development of spatial disorientation. Therefore, it is likely that the pilot became spatially disoriented during the instrument approach, which resulted in the airplane descending below decision height and impacting terrain outside the lateral limits of the localizer. The pilot’s lack of recent instrument flight experience likely contributed to him becoming spatially disoriented during the instrument approach.

The four were lucky. In similar situations, few people ever walk away from the wreckage.

  • PaulJ

    He can’t power up and go around and try again (you know, like us pubs will have to do after the voters bid 4 no trump)?

  • Paul
    • Is not having much recent experience and not being instrument current the same thing in NTSB-speak?

      • Paul

        Ha – at least not being instrument current has a criteria to hold merit.

        I couldn’t find much more info on the pilot’s experience other than commercially rated.

        • Jeff

          There’s an instrument rating you can get so that you are allowed to fly instrument flight rules (IFR).

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Instrument_Rating_in_the_United_States

          After reading the NTSB report it sounds like the pilot was struggling to follow the instrument landing system (ILS). The pilot ended up a 1/2 mile right of the runway and 3/4 of a mile short…now it can be difficult to line up the runway but this guy needed to do a go around way before getting into this situation. I tried to line up a EMB190 with a runway on a full fight sim a few months ago, wow, that is tough to do while manually flying the aircraft…so glad there’s an autopilot on most larger aircraft.

          • Paul

            With training intercepting an approach is not difficult at all. Being instrument rated means you have a minimum of 40 hours under the hood or similar and is plenty of time to know how to fly the approach. Lack of currency can’t get rid of the possibility of spacial disorientation, especially so if the approach began VFR and entered IMC mid approach – that is tough if you are not current. Being spatially disoriented low is not good.

            From the report it is said the pilot went missed at 1600MSL, 120 feet above the MAP. Missed approach instructions for ILS13 straight in is climb straight ahead to 2000, right turn to 3000 direct to RST VOR (http://155.178.201.160/d-tpp/1607/05041IL13.PDF).

            The pilot may have went missed, however did not perform what the instructions are likely because he was behind the aircraft and overloaded because of spatial disorientation.

            Trust what the instruments say.

  • Jack

    Did the plane flip on impact or did it crash upside down?

    • Flipped upon landing

      • Jerry

        I prefer to believe he just gently set it down on its roof.