The Boynton Beach pilot controlling a jet that crashed, killing nine, had been fired from his last job because he wasn’t learning fast enough and lost track of details, National Transportation Safety Board reports show.
The reports offer the first detailed look at the Akron, Ohio, crash on Nov. 10 that killed seven passengers from a Boca Raton commercial real estate firm.
Flight Officer Renato Marchese, 50, was at the controls of the Hawker 125 when the plane at times neared stall speed and once plunged toward the ground at 2,000 feet per minute, the NTSB said in reports released Wednesday. The crash began when the airplane hit trees just 55 feet up about 2 miles from the Akron airport.
Marchese was hired by Execuflight of Boca Raton, which operated the flight. Company President Danny Lewkowicz told investigators he didn’t dig in deep on the background because Marchese wasn’t being hired as the main pilot: “I didn’t, again, really home in on him as I was hiring him as a second in command. And I didn’t get in deep into his file.” Marchese flew as a copilot on a Lewkowicz family trip.
The company that fired Marchese after five and one-half months said Execuflight never checked with his training supervisor to discuss Marchese’s lack of progress. Execuflight did have a copy of the letter detailing the lack of progress in training.
Lewkowicz told The Palm Beach Post Wednesday that the company conducted its own evaluation and training for Marchese and he had satisfactory performance.
Marchese also received the recommendation of another Execuflight pilot.
“We had a good reference in that respect,” Lewkowicz said. “None of things we saw when we did the interview suggested that he was a terrible pilot.”
Marchese’s training supervisor at the previous job said he fell behind in training, struggled with checklists and couldn’t remember things important to the flight.
Lewkowicz said that both Marchese and Oscar Chavez _ the official pilot of the Hawker 125 _ successfully completed flight simulator training through third party instructors and neither required additional training.
The NTSB’s report indicates that Marchese was controlling the jet on its approach as Chavez, the flight’s captain, monitored his actions.
According to the report, Chavez kept warning Marchese of problems, including the risk of stalling, when airplanes lose most of their lift.
“You can’t keep decreasing your speed,” Chavez said to Marchese, according to transcripts of a cockpit voice recorder seized from the burnt wreckage. “… If you keep decreasing your speed … we gonna stall.”
About two minutes later the airplane is descending too quickly.
“You’re diving. You’re diving. Don’t dive. Two thousand feet per minute buddy,” Chavez says, before noting that they were just 1,500 feet above ground. That’s twice the rate the plane should ever descend at for landing.
The passengers, all employees of Boca Raton-based PEBB Enterprises were identified as: Gary Shapiro, 35, of Boca Raton; Diana Suriel, 32, of Wellington; Thomas Virgin, 31, of Boca Raton; Jared Weiner, 35, of Boca Raton; Ori Rom, 32, of Delray Beach; Nick Weaver, 34, of Boca Raton; and Diane Smoot, 50, of Delray Beach. No one on the ground was hurt.
Chavez warns Marchese, “OK level off guy,” the transcripts show, five seconds before a warning system calls out “Pull up” to tell the pilots they’re too close to the ground. “oh oh oh oh” a crew member says.
A second later, there’s a thunk, similar to the sound of an impact. The cockpit voice recorder shuts off three-tenths of a second later.
According to the NTSB report, the aircraft was about two miles from the airport when it struck 55-foot tall trees and clipped power lines before crashing into a four-family apartment building. No one on the ground was hurt. A pilot that landed moments earlier reported low-visibility because of heavy cloud cover.
Conditions called for pilots to rely primarily on instruments rather than visual references, the report said.
Marchese had been fired from his previous job in part because he had problems calculating airplanes’ weight and balance . The NTSB said with extra equipment and fuel, the Hawker would have landed in Akron about 600 pounds heavier than the pilots planned. That landing weight would have been nearly 300 pounds heavier than the manufacturer’s maximum landing weight.
Both crew members died in the fire, rather than the crash. They died of burns and by inhaling smoke. Both crew members were experienced: Chavez had 6,000 hours and Marchese had 4,500 hours.
The crash was brutal, packing the airplane’s right engine with brick and dirt. After the airplane hit the trees, it rolled left, sliced through power lines and blasted through apartments. A scar was left on the ground in front of the buildings, while most of the debris struck an embankment behind the buildings.