Nov. 28, 2011, was scheduled to be a long day for the pilots and medical attendant flying Lifeguard N59773, a Piper PA-31-350 Navajo Chieftain operated by Trans North Aviation Ltd., doing business as Travel Care International. The crew would leave Crawfordsville, Ind., Municipal Airport (CFJ) early in the morning, then dead-head two legs to West Palm Beach, Fla., International (PBI) where they would board a patient and his wife for a two-leg flight to Chicago Executive Airport (PWK).
The crew started the day at 0700 hr.; stopped for fuel in Perry, Ga.; landed at PBI; boarded passengers; departed PBI at 1642; stopped for fuel at Jesup-Wayne County, Ga., Airport at 1830; departed Jesup at 1900. At 2250, the Chieftain crashed just 2.5 mi. north of PWK as the pilot attempted to dead-stick the fuel-starved Navajo to an off-airport landing. The pilot and two passengers were killed. A pilot-rated passenger and the medical attendant survived, but with serious injuries.
The NTSB has yet to publish a probable cause for this accident, but there is no question that the engines had stopped and the fuel tanks were empty when the airplane made its controlled descent into wooded terrain at Riverwoods, Ill. The logistics of the flight were a bit complicated.
The 58-year-old airline transport rated pilot held an airplane multiengine land rating and commercial pilot privileges for single-engine land airplanes. He held a flight instructor certificate with single-engine, multiengine and instrument airplane ratings, and a type rating in the Swearingen SA-227 Metroliner. He had passed a 1-hr. check ride in the PA-31-350 with the operator's chief pilot on June 7, 2011. The pilot had accumulated 6,607 hr. of total flight time, 120 hr. of that time in the PA-31-350. He had flown 171 hr. of total flight time in the previous 90 days, 12 hr. of that time in the Chieftain.
The pilot-rated passenger, an employee of the operating company, was 24-years-old. He held a commercial pilot certificate with single-engine land, multiengine land and instrument airplane ratings. He was a flight instructor with single-engine, multiengine and instrument airplane ratings. He had accumulated 314.3 hr. of total flight time, 259.5 hr. of PIC time, 66.6 hr. of multiengine time and 7 hr. of SIC time in airplanes associated with the operator. The operator's chief pilot told investigators that the pilot-rated passenger was compensated by the operator for the positioning flights to PBI, but was considered a passenger on the flights from PBI.
Paperwork for this flight seems a bit fragmented. The manifest for the southbound legs listed the pilot-passenger as the pilot-in-command and the senior pilot and medical crewmember as “other crew.” This form stated that the crew started their duty period at 0700 when they departed CFJ and they ended their duty period at 1430 in PBI.
Investigators said another load manifest form, also dated Nov. 28, 2011, for the PBI to JES to PWK legs lists the older pilot as the PIC and the pilot-rated passenger and medical crewmember as “other crew.” This form indicated that this crew started their duty period at 1430 at PBI. The form stated the flight departed from PBI at 1642 and landed at JES at 1830. Fueling records showed the airplane was topped-off with 165 gal. of avgas and then departed JES at 1900 destined for PWK. The duty period ending time was not completed.
Chicago area cloud tops at about 2200 hr. were at 3,000 ft. PWK was overcast at 1,400 ft. with winds out of the north at 9 kt.; visibility of 10 mi.; temperature 2 C and dew point was -2 deg. The published inbound course for PWK's ILS runway 16 approach was 161 deg. magnetic with a published straight-in DH of 893 ft. MSL (HAT 250 ft.). The crossing altitude for the locator outer marker PAMME was 2,279 ft. The distance between PAMME and the touchdown zone was 4.9 nm. The touchdown zone elevation was 643 ft. The published weather minimums for the ILS Runway 16 approach were a 300-ft. ceiling and three-quarter mile visibility. MDA altitude for the circling approach was 1,140 ft. MSL and the height above the airport was 493 ft. AGL.