Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Airport staffing, training proves to be crucial: Sierra Blanca Regional (KSRR), Ruidoso, New Mexico

A small aircraft crash near a Las Cruces airport that killed all four on board became more intensely tragic when it came to light that with a little more experience and training it might have been avoided.

One of the contributing factors in the accident was apparently a mix-up in airplane fuel.

"What was really sad about it, there was a young man who made a mistake, but it could easily been prevented," Sierra Blanca Regional Airport Manager Dave Pearce said at a recent Ruidoso village council meeting.

A National Transportation Safety Board preliminary report confirmed the airplane was given the wrong fuel, but did not state if that caused the crash. The report stated a crew member called the dispatcher to report the plane was returning, because smoke was coming from the right engine. The plane turned and still was at a low altitude when it crashed and burst into flames.

Pearce said while Albuquerque and Las Cruces use a contractor to handle fueling, Sierra Blanca's staff refuels planes.

"We are the only 139 airport in the state of New Mexico that does its own fueling," he said. "Everybody else has a private entity taking care of it. A 139 classification means you have a lot of different criteria you have to meet, training and inspection criteria. Every year the FAA comes in and spends three days and evening with us and goes item by item through training documents and everything we do from fire support through refueling and our equipment, when and how it is being inspected, and are you current on your training."

What happened in Las Cruces is why airport managers don't sleep well at night and sometimes strain relationships with their staff when they demand training and push their people hard to complete that training, Pearce said.

"You can't quantify it until you get to an incident like this," he said. "I think the lawyers are going to quantify the value of what it would be to train or not to train. In this particular case, there was a young man, 19 years old, who went out to refuel and unfortunately, put the wrong fuel in. There are a lot of things that should have (caught the error). There are colors on the handles, there are certifications on the tops of the tanks, the smell and color of the fuel. Unfortunately, he put basically diesel, jet fuel, into a 100 low lead airplane, which would be like putting diesel into your car."

As a community that relies greatly on tourism, and with airport traffic numbers continually rising, safety, training and vigilance should remain top priorities.

Village Council Lynn Crawford makes a good point when he said he's aware that Sierra Blanca receives many accolades, but, "sometimes when we're so busy patting ourself on the back is when we make a mistake."

We agree. We commend Pearce and the efforts of his airport staff and ask for continued vigilance.

- Source:   http://www.ruidosonews.com

NTSB Identification: CEN14FA462

Nonscheduled 14 CFR Part 135: Air Taxi & Commuter
Accident occurred Wednesday, August 27, 2014 in Las Cruces, NM
Aircraft: CESSNA 421C, registration: N51RX
Injuries: 4 Fatal.

This is preliminary information, subject to change, and may contain errors. Any errors in this report will be corrected when the final report has been completed. NTSB investigators either traveled in support of this investigation or conducted a significant amount of investigative work without any travel, and used data obtained from various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.

On August 27, 2014, about 1900 mountain daylight time, a Cessna Airplane Company 421C, multi-engine airplane, N51RX, was destroyed after impacting terrain during initial climb near Las Cruces International Airport (LRU), Las Cruces, New Mexico. The pilot, two medical crewmembers and one patient were fatally injured. The airplane was registered to Elite Medical Air Transport, LLC; El Paso, Texas, and was operated by Amigos Aviation, Inc.; Harlingen, Texas. Day visual meteorological conditions (VMC) prevailed at the time of the accident and an instrument flight rules (IFR) flight plan had been filed for the 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 135 air ambulance flight. At the time of the accident the airplane was departing LRU for a flight to Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX), Phoenix, Arizona.

The airplane arrived LRU about 1834 to pickup a patient for a flight to PHX. The pilot was still seated in the cockpit when he gave the line service technician a verbal order for a total of forty gallons of fuel. The line service technician drove the fuel truck to the front of the airplane and refueled the airplane putting 20 gallons in each wing. The pilot then assisted the line service technician with replacing both fuel caps. They both walked into the office and the pilot signed the machine printed fuel ticket.

After departing LRU to the west a medical crewmember onboard the airplane called their medical dispatcher on a satellite telephone and reported they were returning to LRU because of a problem with smoke coming from the right engine. A witness driving westbound on the interstate highway reported the airplane was westbound and about 200 feet above ground level (agl) when he saw smoke begin to appear from the right engine. The airplane then began descending and started a left turn to the east. Another witness, driving eastbound on the interstate highway, reported the airplane was trailing smoke when it passed over him about 100 feet agl. He saw the descending airplane continue its left turn to the east and then lost sight of it. Several witnesses reported seeing the impact or hearing the sound of impact and they then immediately saw smoke or flames.

Evidence at the scene showed the airplane was generally eastbound and upright when it impacted terrain resulting in the separation of the left propeller and the separation of the right aileron. The airplane came to rest inverted about 100 feet from the initial impact point, and there was an immediate postimpact fire which consumed much of the airplane. Investigators who arrived at the scene on the day following the accident reported detecting the smell of jet fuel.

A postaccident review of refueling records and interviews with line service technicians showed that the airplane had been misfuelled with 40 gallons of Jet A fuel instead of the required 100LL aviation gasoline.

At 1855 the automated weather observing system at LRU, located about 3 miles northeast from the accident location, reported wind from 040 degrees at 5 knots, visibility of 10 miles, broken clouds at 6,500 feet, temperature 23 degrees Celsius (C), dew point 16 degrees C, with an altimeter setting of 30.16 inches of Mercury.

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