Federal Agencies Release Crash Reports
WASHINGTON (AP) _ The pilot of an American Eagle Jetstream that crashed in North Carolina last December had received low training marks and was once recommended for dismissal from another airline, federal investigators disclosed Thursday.
Capt. Michael Patrick Hillis, 29, was one of 15 people killed in the Dec. 13 accident as the plane approached Raleigh-Durham International Airport. Five aboard the plane survived.
The cockpit voice recorder on the plane showed that Hillis and co-pilot Matthew Ian Sailor were worried about a possible engine malfunction in the moments before the crash. But the National Transportation Safety Board’s massive report found no evidence of engine failure.
Sounds on the cockpit voice recorder are consistent with operation of both engines, the report said, and engineers found no faults that would have prevented engine operation. The report says that the way the propellers were bent in the crash indicates they were turning at the time.
But the study of the crew found problems with Hillis, including a recommendation for dismissal from Cincinnati-based Comair, which permitted him to resign instead.
In 1991, when Hillis applied for a job at Flagship Airlines in Nashville, Tenn., operator of the plane that crashed, he said he left Comair because he wanted to move closer to Memphis, where he was taking classes, the report disclosed.
The safety board interviewed the Comair pilot who recommended the dismissal and he told the agency that Hillis ``had below average piloting skills that required my constant attention ... .″
He said he was concerned that Hillis would ``freeze up or get tunnel vision″ in an emergency.
Hillis had been a charter pilot from 1985 to 1990. He joined Comair Jan. 8, 1990, and resigned Jan. 3, 1991. He was hired by Flagship four days later. Hillis had accumulated 3,499 hours of flight time.
At Flagship, Hillis received unsatisfactory ratings during some training sessions but eventually completed training and was assigned as a pilot. The Federal Aviation Administration concluded that at the time of the accident he was fully qualified to fly the aircraft.
However, the report showed that an unnamed Flagship pilot had expressed a reluctance to fly with Hillis because he had ``heard things″ from others. Asked by an airline manager to fly with Hillis and report back, the man later said the trip had been uneventful and apologized for his concern.
The FAA tape recording of conversations between the plane and the air traffic control tower at Raleigh-Durham, also released Thursday, showed nothing unusual.
But the separate transcript of the cockpit voice recorders showed the pilots talked about an ignition light going on just before the crash, leading them to believe that an engine might have failed.
The cockpit conversation focused on the engine and ignition as the plane gradually slowed and lost altitude until a warning horn indicated it was about to stall, meaning it was going so slow that it lost the ability to fly.
Other findings of the report included:
_The plane was so heavily loaded that two pieces of luggage had to be removed before it left Greensboro.
_There was light drizzle and fog at the time of the accident, wind was from the northeast at about 11 miles an hour.
_While the Jetstream was small enough to qualify for regulation under commuter plane rules, Flagship followed the stricter standards that apply to larger jet planes.
_Unlike Comair, Flagship did not require its pilots to review the performance of new first officers and no such reports had been done on Hillis when he joined the airline.