Investigators say weather worsened quickly before plane crash that killed 6 in Southern California
Aug 2, 2023, 4:40 PM | Updated: 7:46 pm
The weather was quickly worsening before a plane crashed in Southern California last month, killing all six people on board, federal investigators said Wednesday.
The National Transportation Safety Board issued a preliminary report on the July 8 crash near Murrieta, with new details that added to questions about whether the pilots could see the runway as they attempted to land.
The NTSB said the Cessna 550 business jet hit the ground 800 feet (240 meters) short of the runway threshold at French Valley Airport and caught fire.
The airport’s automated weather station recorded clear skies and visibility of 10 miles less than an hour before the crash, but 20 minutes later, there were clouds at 300 feet (90 meters), and visibility was down to three-quarters of a mile (about 1.2 kilometers). The NTSB said visibility was just a half-mile (about 800 meters) in fog around the time of the crash.
The plane was making its second attempt to land after a missed approach, which usually happens when pilots can’t see the runway. Air traffic controllers gave the crew permission for the second attempt.
John Cox, a former airline pilot and now an aviation-safety consultant, said visibility must be a half-mile at big airports with bright runway lights. A smaller airport with less-powerful lighting makes it even harder to see the runway, he said.
Cox called it “a major error” that the private plane descended below the minimum height at which pilots must be able to see the ground at the airport.
“The fact that they were below minimums and landed short (of the runway) is evidence that they did not have the runway in sight,” he said.
Cox and Douglas Moss, another safety expert and flight instructor, both said the crew should have tried to land at a different airport.
“There were numerous airports within a short distance that had much better weather,” Moss said.
The NTSB has not yet determined a cause for the crash. That will probably take a year or longer.
Moss said the NTSB is also likely to examine whether fatigue was a factor in the 4 a.m. accident and whether pilots might have been too eager to get home as soon as possible.
Two pilots and four passengers were returning from a 5-hour visit to Las Vegas when the crash occurred.
Local authorities have identified the pilots as Riese Lenders, 25, and Manuel Vargas-Regalado, 32; and the passengers as Abigail Tellez-Vargas, 33, Lindsey Gleich, 31, Alma Razick, 51, and Ibrahem Razick, 46.
Murrieta is about 80 miles (129 kilometers) southeast of Los Angeles.