Air Midwest Flight 5481

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Air Midwest Flight 5481
An Air Midwest Beechcraft 1900D operating for USAir Express, similar to the aircraft involved in the accident.
Accident summary
Date January 8, 2003 (2003-01-08)
Summary Stalled after take-off due to overloading, maintenance error
Site Charlotte, North Carolina, United States
Passengers 19
Crew 2
Injuries (non-fatal) 1 (on ground)
Fatalities 21 (all on board aircraft)
Aircraft type Beechcraft 1900D
Operator Air Midwest as US Airways Express (The Beechcraft 1900D involved, N233YV, still wore the USAir Express livery)
Registration N233YV
Flight origin Charlotte/Douglas Int'l Airport
Destination Greenville-Spartanburg Int'l Airport

Air Midwest Flight 5481, operating as US Airways Express Flight 5481, was a flight from Charlotte/Douglas International Airport in Charlotte, North Carolina, United States to Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport near the cities of Greenville, South Carolina and Spartanburg, South Carolina; on January 8, 2003 a Beechcraft 1900D operated by Air Midwest as US Airways Express (under a franchise agreement used for the route) stalled after take-off, crashed into a US Airways hangar and burst into flames 37 seconds after leaving Charlotte/Douglas International Airport.

All nineteen passengers and two pilots aboard died in the accident, and one person on the ground received minor injuries. None of the US Airways employees working in the hangar received injuries.[1]

Crew and passengers[edit]

This is a list by residence:[2]

Residence Passengers Crew Total
 Bahamas 3 0 3
 Canada 1 0 1
 India 2 0 2
 Portugal 1 0 1
 United States 12 2 14
Total 19 2 21

One of the victims was Mark E. Congdon, CIO of US Foodservice. He was a young father of four.

The victims also included two Clemson University graduate students from India and a first-year student from Bob Jones University.[3] The Bob Jones student, Christiana Grace Shepherd, aged 18 was a resident of the Azores, Portugal and a U.S. citizen;[4][5] she originated from Boston.[6]

The crew consisted of Captain Katie Leslie, aged 25, who was the youngest captain flying for the airline (for just over 3 years); and First Officer Jonathan Gibbs, aged 27. Captain Leslie had accrued 1,865 hours total company flying time, and First Officer Gibbs had 706 hours total company flying time. Both were based in Charlotte.[2][7][8]

Cause of the crash[edit]

The investigators determined the crash to have been the result of two separate issues. After take-off, the plane climbed steeply as a result of higher than expected weight on the aircraft. Even though both pilots pushed on the control column forward, the plane did not respond to their input, and this led to the stalling of the aircraft.

The aircraft's most recent service involved adjusting the elevator control cable, and was performed two nights before the crash at a repair facility located at Tri-State Airport in Huntington, West Virginia. During the investigation, it emerged that the mechanic who worked on the elevator cables had never worked on this type of aircraft. Investigation revealed that turnbuckles controlling tension on the cables to the elevators had been set incorrectly, resulting in insufficient elevator travel, leading to the pilots not having sufficient pitch control. Although normally a post-adjustment control test would be conducted to ensure that the maintenance had been carried out correctly, and that the surface was operating properly, the maintenance supervisor who was instructing the mechanic decided to skip this step. The NTSB noted that the FAA was aware of "serious deficiencies" in the training procedures at the facility, but had done nothing to correct them.[9]

Although the pilots had totaled up the take-off weight of the aircraft before the flight and determined it to be within limits, the plane was actually overloaded and out of balance, due to the use of incorrect Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)-approved passenger weight estimates. When checked, the National Transportation Safety Board found that the actual weight of an average passenger was more than 20 pounds (9 kg) greater than estimated. After checking the actual weight of baggage retrieved from the crash site, and passengers (based on information from next-of-kin and the medical examiner), it was found that the aircraft was actually 580 pounds (264 kg) above its maximum allowable take-off weight, with its center of gravity 5% to the rear of the allowable limit.

It was determined that neither problem alone would have caused the loss of control, which explains why it departed Huntington, West Virginia safely.

Aftermath[edit]

As a result of the weight issues discovered, the FAA planned to investigate and potentially revise estimated weight values, something that had not been done since 1936. Air Midwest used an average weight of 200 pounds (90.7 kg) per passenger after the accident, but the NTSB suggests that airlines use actual weights instead of average. 70% of small air carriers still use average.[5] Air Midwest publicly apologized for the incident after the family of crash victim Christiana Grace Shepherd pressured the airline to do so. Air Midwest ceased operations in 2008.[5][10][11]

Dramatization[edit]

The crash was featured in a Mayday (Air Crash Investigation, Air Emergency) episode entitled "Dead Weight," first broadcast in the United Kingdom on the National Geographic Channel in early 2008. This episode suggested that Captain Katie Leslie's actions in the final moments of the flight may have saved lives: the plane had been diverted away from a harmful direct collision with the maintenance hangar.[citation needed]

Images[edit]

References[edit]

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 35°12′25″N 80°56′46.85″W / 35.20694°N 80.9463472°W / 35.20694; -80.9463472