The 2019 skydiving plane crash in Mokuleia — one of the nation’s worst civil aviation accidents of the past decade — probably occurred due to an “aggressive takeoff maneuver” by the pilot, according to new findings released Tuesday by the National Transportation Safety Board.
The NTSB listed several other contributing factors in the crash, including the pilot’s lack of training and experience with the Beechcraft B90 plane, the skydiving company’s failure to keep the plane airworthy, and lax regulation of such flights by the Federal Aviation Administration.
Those findings into the crash, which killed all 11 people on board moments after take off at Dillingham Airfield, were briefly outlined in the NTSB’s latest report imploring the FAA to impose more stringent rules and oversight of the nation’s skydiving flights and air tours.
A final and more detailed report discussing the crash’s probable cause has not been released yet – NTSB officials said Wednesday that it will be issued sometime in the next few weeks. So far, there’s been a preliminary report and a series of “factual reports” released.
The report that the NTSB released Tuesday was broader in scope. The Mokuleia crash — and the findings into what caused it — were among eight total crashes that the board cited as it renewed its call for stricter operations, training, maintenance and safety standards from the FAA.
Tuesday’s report further revealed that the Beechcraft, operated by Oahu Parachute Center, had a “twisted left wing” that also contributed to the crash because it “reduced the airplane’s stall margin.”
“Contributing to the pilot’s training deficiencies was the FAA’s lack of awareness that the pilot’s flight instructor was providing substandard training,” the report added.
In fact, the NTSB has voiced concerns for more than 30 years over what it views as lax and uneven oversight of skydiving and air tour flights, both of which are prevalent in scenic Hawaii.
Those calls have often been rebuffed, however, by the FAA and the general aviation industry, which worries that smaller tour operators will go out of business if the standards grow too rigid.
Currently, skydiving flights and many air tours are covered by general aviation regulations, known as Part 91. But NTSB officials argue that such commercial flights should be covered under Code of Federal Regulations Part 135, which would require more frequent, rigorous aircraft maintenance and pilot training.
Several employees and pilots at the airfield interviewed by NTSB investigators said that the pilot during the crash, Jerome Renck, would often perform aggressive maneuvers upon takeoff from the North Shore airfield and its beach-adjacent runway.
A SkyDive Hawaii pilot told investigators that Renck “would rotate the airplane and bank simultaneously,” according to the NTSB’s factual reports. “It looked like the pilot was trying to get the most out of the airplane when he was using a high pitch and bank, clearing the ironwood trees that lined the highway by about 50 feet.”
Renck also piloted the flight prior to the one that crashed, and an experienced parachutist on the prior flight told investigators that during takeoff the airplane banked “left lower than what he was accustomed to seeing.”
A less-experienced parachutist also on the previous flight told investigators that he too noticed an “aggressive turn at departure,” and that other passengers on board told him that was not normal. A third parachutist aboard that flight called the takeoff “a little ‘spicey’ (sic) for his liking,” according to the report.
However, one of Renck’s pilot colleagues at Oahu Parachute Center told investigators that it was “not unusual” for pilots to bank hard on takeoff in order to avoid the landing zone for parachutists.
Former Oahu Parachute Center pilots told NTSB investigators that “there was no training curriculum,” nor were there training or procedures manuals. One former pilot called the training there “a joke.”
“There was no formalized training since there was no money to take the airplane out of service for training flights,” the NTSB factual reports state.
Pilots “primarily trained by viewing the King Air Academy videos on YouTube and not hands-on training,” the reports added, referring to the series of Beechcraft planes.
Tuesday’s NTSB report and its recommendations “highlight the critical need to further regulate our air tour industry,” U.S. Rep. Ed Case said in an email. He’s repeatedly introduced legislation that aims to do that.
“The FAA’s current regulations simply are not keeping our skies and ground safe,” Case said.” There are just too many cowboys cutting too many corners with too little real oversight. The FAA must finally implement what the NTSB has urged over too many fatal crashes.”
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