A plane departs Tampa’s Peter O. Knight Airport on Thursday. On March 18, a plane crashed after nearly hitting another, killing two.
TAMPA — Before Louis Caporicci and Kevin Carreno climbed into the cockpit of a Cessna 340 last month, before confusion at Peter O. Knight Airport led their plane and another to take off at the same time, before their plane veered into the ground and erupted in a fireball, killing the two friends, there was a warning.
"This airport needs a tower."
The message, from a veteran pilot with thousands of hours of flying time, came after he was involved in a near midair collision over Peter O. Knight in January 2014. The plane that nearly hit him never signaled it was trying to land, he wrote in a federal safety report.
The pilot also warned that tight restrictions on where planes can fly near Peter O. Knight make airspace around the Davis Islands airport "cramped," increasing the danger when communication breaks down. He called the situation "treacherous."
Like most general aviation airports, Peter O. Knight does not have a control tower. That means the pilots who fly there, most of them in small recreational planes, must talk to each other to operate safely.
But unlike other general aviation airports, Peter O. Knight is surrounded by some of the most regulated airspace in Florida.
Seven miles to the northwest is Tampa International Airport. MacDill Air Force Base sits 6 miles to the southwest. Both are surrounded by airspace that pilots can enter only if they're granted permission by those airports' control towers. A shipping channel adjacent to the airport further complicates operations.
Most days, planes navigate the towerless airspace without problems. There are an estimated 60,000 takeoffs and landings at Peter O. Knight each year, and the overwhelming majority are incident-free.
But in the moments before the deadly crash on March 18, there was a communications failure between the two planes taking off at Peter O. Knight, a National Transportation Safety Board investigation has found. MacDill's controlled airspace factored in, too, the NTSB report says.
At least a dozen times in the past 10 years, those two issues have caused major accidents, near-misses and embarrassing but dangerous mishaps at the small airport, records show.
"Airspace restrictions are a challenge at Peter O. Knight," said John Cox, a former US Airways pilot and former safety official at the Air Line Pilots Association who now lives in St. Petersburg. "It can and has been for years used safely, but it is challenging."
• • •
Even from the sky, some views are better than others.
The scenic entrance into Peter O. Knight — the Tampa skyline, giant cruise ships that line Port Tampa Bay, runways just feet from the blue waters of Hillsborough Bay — is why recreational pilots like Bill Moffatt enjoy landing planes there.
But its location between two major air hubs creates obstacles.
"You've got to watch it," said Moffatt, 51, of Bartow. "It is unique, there's no doubt about it. I think a lot of people probably shy away from that airport because of that."
Marty Lauth, a retired Federal Aviation Administration controller who worked at airports in Orlando and Miami, said he has never seen an urban general aviation airport in Florida where pilots must maneuver around such expansive airspace restrictions without a tower.
"Not to this extent. Not with a military base. Not with a downtown. Not next to a major airport like Tampa International," said Lauth, now a professor of air traffic management at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach.
"I have seen some busy (general aviation) airports that are in and around a major metropolitan area, but there's usually a control tower."
An airport can apply to the Federal Contract Tower program and the FAA will conduct a cost-benefit analysis to see if a tower is needed. The federal government can help fund the cost. Or, airports can choose to construct a tower and pay for staffing themselves.
Peter O. Knight has not asked the FAA to evaluate whether the airport needs a tower, said John Tiliacos, who oversees the airport as vice president of operations and customer service at Tampa International.
The FAA said it is investigating the March crash for any safety concerns at the airport.
"Peter O. Knight is a very safe airport," Tiliacos said. "The vast majority of pilots that operate into and out of our airports do so safely, they follow published procedures, and when you look at our records, it reflects that."
Across the bay, St. Petersburg's Albert Whitted Airport has a tower. It's busier, with about 90,000 takeoffs and landings a year, though there are also fewer limitations on pilots flying around it.
And a tower can't prevent every tragedy. Since 2012, there have been two fatal crashes at Albert Whitted.
And a tower wouldn't have stopped a deadly crash at Peter O. Knight in 2006, when a plane experiencing engine trouble hit a house just beyond the runway.
But the unusual restrictions at Peter O. Knight have caused repeated problems there.
Because it doesn't have a tower, the federal government doesn't log dangerous incidents and near-misses at Peter O. Knight, only physical accidents. The airport does not track them, either.
Pilots can self-report unsafe actions to a national database maintained by NASA. The reports are filed anonymously and the FAA does not monitor or verify them. But they're highly technical and often filled out meticulously.
Since 2009, pilots on five occasions have reported narrowly avoiding catastrophes at Peter O. Knight, including three near midair collisions between planes during takeoffs or landings. In each case, there was a failure to properly communicate. In most cases, Peter O. Knight's unique surroundings factored in, as well.
During the same time period, pilots have not reported any such incidents at Albert Whitted, or at Clearwater Airpark or at Tampa Executive Airport, two other local airports without towers.
In February 2015, for example, a plane flew less than 100 feet over an unsuspecting tugboat on the channel adjacent to Peter O. Knight. The encounter "scared the (expletive) out of the pilot in the vessel's wheelhouse," according to a safety report filed with NASA.
The channel also was the site of a crash investigated by the NTSB in 2008. A pilot didn't see the mast of a sailboat while landing and hit it, injuring two.
Incidents occur because of the airport's proximity to MacDill. A 2014 safety handbook from the airbase on avoiding midair collisions said Peter O. Knight "presents the greatest potential for conflict" with MacDill planes and it urged civilian pilots to "exercise extreme vigilance and caution."
That danger was nearly realized in 2011, when a plane from Peter O. Knight flew into the path of a C-17, a large, four-engine military transport plane. Neither plane was harmed.
MacDill's runway lines up almost perfectly with one at Peter O. Knight, and the two airports "are often mistaken or confused" with each other, the handbook said. In 2012, a civilian pilot headed to Peter O. Knight from Miami accidentally landed without clearance at the airbase, causing security concerns.
And Air Force pilots aren't immune to the confusion. In 2012, a tired pilot landed a C-17, with a 170-foot wingspan, on one of Peter O. Knight's tiny runways instead of at MacDill.
"The young pilot did a good job landing, albeit on the wrong strip," Gen. James Mattis, then head of Central Command, said at the time.
He should know. He was aboard the plane when it landed.
• • •
On most days, MacDill is just another nuisance for pilots flying into and out of Peter O. Knight.
But on March 18, MacDill's restrictions may have launched a sequence of events that led to the death of the two pilots, Caporicci and Carreno.
Normally, MacDill's controlled airspace leaves some room — though not much — for pilots to take off from Peter O. Knight toward the southwest before they have to turn left away from the Air Force base.
On March 18, that would have been the preferred direction to take off, because wind was coming from the southwest. Pilots generally take off into the wind to maximize airflow over the wings.
But with the Tampa Bay AirFest at MacDill that weekend, a flight restriction extended to cover the southern end of both of Peter O. Knight's runways, the NTSB investigation said.
That was critical, said Al Diehl, a former NTSB crash investigator and a pilot familiar with Peter O. Knight. It likely forced runway traffic north — where the airport's two runways intersect.
"There's no way in hell you're going to take off (to the southwest) because then you would be in violation of the (flight restriction)," Diehl said.
About 11:30 a.m. March 18, two planes, a Cessna 172 and the Cessna 340 operated by Caporicci and Carreno, took off at almost the same time on different runways heading toward the intersection point.
Disaster still could have been avoided if the pilots had spoken to each other using the ground frequency. Or if there was a tower to direct them.
Pilots in the Cessna 172 told NTSB investigators that they announced their takeoff plans through a ground frequency, but they never heard Caporicci and Carreno. When the Cessna 172 took off, Caporicci and Carreno left the ground at almost the same time, then took a hard left turn, then the plane inverted and crashed nose-first into the ground.
The Cessna 172 was not damaged.
Reached at his office, the owner of the Cessna 172, Paul Gallizzi, said the NTSB and his attorneys advised him not to comment on the crash.
Moffatt, the Bartow pilot, said the accident disturbed him when he read about it. He has seen it before, pilots skipping a simple but critical step. But it should be a teaching point, he said, not a reason to change things at the airport.
"I don't think there's any more danger at Peter O. Knight than any other airport," Moffatt said, "if you follow the rules."
Original article can be found here: http://www.tampabay.com
Ninerxray Inc: http://registry.faa.gov/N6239X
FAA Flight Standards District Office: FAA Miami FSDO-19
NTSB Identification: ERA16FA133
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Friday, March 18, 2016 in Tampa, FL
Aircraft: CESSNA 340A, registration: N6239X
Injuries: 2 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 March 18, 2016, at 1130 eastern daylight time, a Cessna 340A, N6239X, was destroyed when it impacted terrain during an initial climb following a takeoff at Peter O. Knight Airport (TPF), Tampa, Florida. The airline transport pilot and the private pilot were fatally injured. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed. An instrument flight rules flight plan had been filed. The personal flight, to Pensacola International Airport (PNS) Pensacola, Florida, was operating under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91.
TPF had two runways, runway 4/22, which was 3,580 feet long and 100 feet wide, and runway 18/36, which was 2,687 feet long and 75 feet wide. The runways intersected near their northern ends. There was shipping channel just east of, and parallel to runway 18/36.
Wind, recorded at the airport at 1135, was from 210 degrees true at 9 knots. However, a temporary flight restriction (TFR) was in effect at the time of the accident due to an airshow at nearby MacDill Air Force Base. The TFR extended in a 5-nautical-mile radius from the center of the base, from the surface to 15,000 feet unless authorized by air traffic control. The TFR extended over the southern ends of both runways at TPF. Multiple sources indicated that while the twin-engine Cessna 340 was taking off from runway 4, a single-engine Cessna 172M, N61801, was taking off from runway 36.
The airport did not have an operating control tower, and the common traffic advisory frequency (CTAF) was not recorded, nor was it required to be.
There were two pilots in the Cessna 172; the pilot in command (PIC) who had just passed his private pilot check ride at TPF, and a pilot-rated passenger, who had also been the PIC's flight instructor. The Cessna 172 was departing for its home airport following the check ride. In separate written statements, both pilots stated that the PIC made an advisory radio call indicating they would be taking off from runway 36. They also stated that they did not hear any other airplane on the frequency, with the PIC noting that they monitored frequency 122.725 [the CTAF frequency] from the taxi start point in front of the fixed base operator (FBO) to runway 36.
There was also a radio at the FBO, and a witness who was there at the time of the accident stated that he heard a radio call from the Cessna 340, and about 10-15 seconds later, heard what he thought could have been a call from the Cessna 172, but it wasn't as clear, partly because he was speaking to someone else at the time.
Airport and cross-channel security cameras captured the latter part of the accident flight. They partially showed the Cessna 340 taking off from runway 4 and the Cessna 172 taking off from runway 36.
The airport security camera was pointed such that the intersections of runways 4 and 36 were in the upper left quadrant of the video. The video initially showed the Cessna 172 on its takeoff roll. It lifted off the runway well before the runway intersection, continued a slow climb straight ahead, and gradually disappeared toward the upper left portion of the video.
When the video initially showed the Cessna 340, it was already about 20 feet above runway 4. It then made a hard left turn and appeared to pass behind the Cessna 172, still in a left turn, but climbing. It then appeared to briefly parallel the course of the Cessna 172, but the left-turn bank angle continued to increase, and the airplane's nose dropped. The airplane then descended, impacting the ground in an inverted, extremely nose-low attitude. During the impact sequence, the airplane burst into flames.
There was also a camera at a berth on the opposite (eastern) side of the shipping channel. The camera was pointing northward, up the shipping channel. However, the left side of the video also included part of the airport where runways 4 and 36 intersected.
In the recording, the Cessna 172 was first seen coming into view airborne off runway 36, and climbing straight out over the runway. As it neared the intersection, the Cessna 340 came into view, just lifting off from runway 4 and almost immediately beginning a hard left turn. The Cessna 340 continued the turn, passing behind the Cessna 172 while climbing and closing on the Cessna 172's right side. It almost reached Cessna 172's altitude, but continued the left turn onto its back, and descended into the ground. A fireball then erupted that initially extended well below and in front of the Cessna 172.
The Cessna 172 pilot-rated passenger, in the right seat, stated that as his airplane climbed through about 200 feet, he heard another airplane. He looked out the right window and saw the Cessna 340 almost directly below, "stall and crash." The PIC of the Cessna 172, in the left seat, stated that he heard but did not see what he thought was a twin engine airplane, then saw a fireball at the departure end of the runway he just departed.
The videos also recorded a boat heading north, mid-channel, in the waterway next to runway 36 when the accident occurred. A witness on the boat heard "screaming engine noise," which caused him to look toward the two airplanes. He saw that the "twin engine plane was behind and below the single engine plane." The twin engine airplane was in a left turn; it then caught a wing and slammed into the ground, with an "instantaneous" explosion.
The Cessna 340 impacted flat terrain about 40 feet to right of, and 250 feet from the departure end of runway 36, in the vicinity of 27 degrees, 55.16 minutes north latitude, 082 degrees, 26.87 degrees west longitude. The airplane was mostly destroyed in a post impact fire, and initial ground scars indicated an approximate heading of 010 degrees magnetic. Ground scars were consistent with the airplane having impacted at a high descent angle and inverted. However, the main wreckage came to rest right side up.
The fire consumed the majority of fuselage, from the nose of the airplane to the beginning of the empennage. Both wings were also substantially consumed by fire. The engines had separated from the wings, with the right engine found between the beginning of the wreckage path and the main wreckage, and the left engine found on top of the right wing.
Remnants of all flight control surfaces were found at the scene, but flight control continuity could only be confirmed between the wings and center cabin, and the tail and center cabin due to the extent of fire damage.
Both propellers were found broken off from their respective engines, and both sets of propellers exhibited blade leading edge burnishing, and bending and twisting. Engine crankshaft continuity was confirmed on both engines, as was compression. Significant thermal and impact damage was noted, but no preexisting anomalies were found that would have precluded normal operation.