Executive Airlines Jetstream 3100: plane's safety device failed

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Citizens' Voice

Investigator for victims’ families: plane’s safety device failed

SCRANTON (AP) - The failure of a safety device severely affected the flight dynamics and stopped fuel from getting to the engine of a plane that crashed last year near Wilkes-Barre, killing 19 people, according to an investigator for some of the victims' families.

Dan Barks, an attorney with an Arlington, Va., law firm investigating the crash, told The Scranton Times for Sunday's editions that a safety device called a "beta interlock" failed, creating "a nightmarish scenario" that led to the crash.

"We had some sort of serious catastrophic failure," Barks said.

The National Transportation Safety Board has not yet released its final report on the May 21, 2000, crash of the Executive Airlines Jetstream 3100 that was returning passengers from the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre area who had been on a casino junket to Atlantic City, N.J.

Keith Holloway, a spokesman with the NTSB, said Sunday that he couldn't comment on the government investigation. He said he was unsure when the NTSB's report would be released.

Investigators have not ruled out other possibilities, Barks said, but believe the failure of the beta interlock allowed the blades of the airplane's right propeller to move into the wrong pitch. That condition would make the right propeller work in reverse, Barks said.

With the left propeller moving the plane forward and the right propeller moving it in the opposite direction, the aircraft began flying sideways, like a skidding car, Barks said.

Barks said the sideways flight would have created centrifugal forces that forced the plane's fuel to move away from the fuel intake. The lack of fuel would make the engines stop, Barks said, "resulting in a nightmarish scenario where the pilots, having dealt with one emergency, find themselves in a hopeless situation."

The pilots may have been struggling with the controls for as long as two minutes before impact, Barks said.

Barks, a pilot, was brought into the case by Scranton attorneys Sal Cognetti Jr. and Dan Brier, who have filed lawsuits in U.S. District Court on behalf of a number of the victims' families.

"It was the most horrible death you could imagine," Cognetti said of the victims' final moments.

The NTSB said in July that it believed that the right engine on the doomed charter plane may have been operating just before it crashed in the rain nine miles south of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport.

Pilots declared an emergency soon after missing their first approach of an airport runway, according to NTSB investigators. Just before the second approach, the pilots said they had lost both engines.

Russ Hazleton, a retired TWA pilot and part-time Wyoming County resident who has no connection to the case, said the reversed propeller would make the plane difficult to control. Even with the engine off, the propeller would work against straight flight, Hazleton said.

-- Rachel Gibson (rgibson@hotmail.com), May 15, 2001

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