Air Midwest Flight 5481
An Air Midwest Beechcraft 1900D operating for USAir Express, similar to the aircraft involved in the accident.
|Date||January 8, 2003|
|Summary||Stall due to maintenance error, overloading|
|Site||Charlotte, North Carolina, United States|
|Aircraft type||Beechcraft 1900D|
|Operator||Air Midwest d/b/a US Airways Express|
|Flight origin||Charlotte Douglas International Airport|
|Destination||Greenville–Spartanburg International Airport|
|Fatalities||21 (all on board the aircraft)|
|Injuries||1 (on ground)|
On January 8, 2003, Air Midwest Flight 5481 (operating as US Airways Express Flight 5481), a regularly scheduled passenger flight operated by Air Midwest using a Beechcraft 1900D turboprop aircraft stalled while departing Charlotte Douglas International Airport and crashed into an aircraft hangar. All 21 people on board were killed, and one person on the ground was also injured.
Air Midwest Flight 5481 (operating as US Airways Express Flight 5481 under a franchise agreement with US Airways) was a regularly scheduled passenger flight from Charlotte Douglas International Airport near Charlotte, North Carolina to Greenville–Spartanburg International Airport in Greer, South Carolina. On January 8, 2003, Flight 5481 was operated by a Beechcraft 1900D (registration number N233YV).:1 The aircraft was originally delivered new to Air Midwest in 1996, and had accumulated 15,003 flight hours at the time of the crash.:14
The flight crew consisted of captain Katie Leslie (age 25) and first officer Jonathan Gibbs (age 27). Leslie was the youngest captain flying for the airline at that time, and had accrued 1,865 hours total company flying time, including 1,100 hours as the pilot-in-command of a Beechcraft 1900D. Gibbs had 706 hours of flying time in Beechcraft 1900D aircraft. Both pilots were based in Charlotte.:9–10
A total of 21 people were on board Flight 5481, including:
Departure and crash
On the morning of January 8, 2003, ramp agents loaded 23 checked bags onto Flight 5481, including two unusually heavy bags.:1 The flight crew completed their pre-flight checklists, including weight and balance checks.:2
Flight 5481 left the gate at about 08:30 Eastern Standard Time.[a] At 08:37, ground controllers cleared Flight 5481 to taxi to runway 18R for departure. At 08:46, the tower controller cleared Flight 5481 for takeoff, and the pilots applied takeoff power and began their takeoff roll.:2
Immediately after becoming airborne, Flight 5481's nose began to rapidly pitch up. By the time it reached an altitude of 90 feet above ground level (AGL), the plane's nose had pitched up 20 degrees. Despite both pilots trying forcefully to push the nose down, the plane continued to pitch nose-up, reaching a maximum of 54 degrees of pitch. The aircraft's stall warning horn sounded, and the pilots declared an emergency to air traffic controllers. After climbing to an altitude of 1,150 feet AGL, the plane stalled, abruptly pitching down into an uncontrollable descent.:3 Approximately 35 seconds after taking off, Flight 5481 crashed into an aircraft maintenance hangar and burst into flames.:4,8
The nineteen passengers and both pilots were killed. A US Airways mechanic on the ground was treated for smoke inhalation. No one else on the ground was hurt.:8
Cause of the crash
The investigators determined the crash to have been the result of the combination of two separate issues. After take-off, the plane climbed steeply as a result of higher than calculated 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.
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 had been flown without incident prior to and had departed Huntington, West Virginia safely.
The NTSB report included 21 safety recommendations.
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. 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.
There is a memorial outside of Charlotte, North Carolina.
- Aircraft Accident Report: Loss of Pitch Control During Takeoff, Air Midwest Flight 5481, Raytheon (Beechcraft) 1900D, N233YV, Charlotte, North Carolina, January 8, 2003 (PDF). National Transportation Safety Board. February 26, 2004. NTSB/AAR-04/01. Archived from the original (PDF) on June 28, 2014.
- "FAA Registry (N233YV)". Federal Aviation Administration.
- "AIR MIDWEST 5481 CREW AND PASSENGER NAME LIST AMPLIFICATION" (Archive) US Airways
- "AIR MIDWEST FLIGHT 5481 CREW AND PARTIAL PASSENGER NAME LIST NOTIFICATION #4", US Airways
- "AIR MIDWEST FLIGHT 5481 CREW AND PASSENGER NAME LIST UPDATE NOTIFICATION #5", US Airways
- "Loss of Pitch Control Caused Fatal Airliner Crash in Charlotte, North Carolina Last Year", NTSB SB-04-03, February 26, 2004
- "Dead Weight". Mayday. Season 5. 2008. Discovery Channel Canada / National Geographic Channel.
- Hedlund, Paul J. and Ronald L. M. Goldman. "Another Level of Justice: The Public Apology." Andrews Litigation Reporter (at Baum Hedlund Law). April 25, 2006. Volume 24, Issue 5.
- "Companies Accept Responsibility and Publicly Apologize to the Families of the 8 January 2003 Air Midwest Flight 5481 Crash in Charlotte, North Carolina." Baum Hedlund Law. Accessed October 27, 2008.
- STATEMENT BY US AIRWAYS PRESIDENT AND CEO DAVID SIEGEL ON AIR MIDWEST ACCIDENT (Archive) US Airways
- Incident Involving US Airways Express Flight 5481 Operated by Air Midwest, Inc. (Archive) Mesa Airlines
- Investigators check black boxes from N.C. plane crash[dead link]
- NTSB Animation: Air Midwest Flight 5481; Beechcraft 1900 Accident Investigation; Charlotte, NC
- Cockpit Voice Recorder transcript and accident summary
- Pre-crash photo of N233YV