Pilot error caused 2013 ERA crash, NTSB says

Pilot error caused the Oct. 23, 2013, crash of an Era Aviation Beechcraft 1900 C/C at the Homer Airport, the National Transportation Safety Board said in a report approved last month.

The two-engine plane slid on its belly from the east end of the runway to near the terminal after the landing gear collapsed. All 13 passengers and the two crewmembers walked away from the crash. Three passengers are now alleging injuries. The plane was flying to Homer from Anchorage.

In the report approved Sept. 2, the NTSB said the crash happened at about 3:30 p.m. when the first officer, a 58-year-old man, raised the landing gear. Inspection of the Beechcraft controls after the crash showed the landing gear selector handle located on the captain’s side of the console was in the up position.

“After touchdown on the runway, the first officer selected the landing gear handle up,” the NTSB said in its report.

In a brief of the report, the NTSB also said the first officer told investigators that “after touchdown on the runway, while intending to retract the flaps, he inadvertently selected the landing gear handle up.”

Two lawsuits have been filed against ERA Aviation, now known as Ravn Alaska, and its parent companies, Corvus Aviation and HotH Inc., claiming injury to three passengers, David Martishev and Anatoli Martishev in one suit and Sharon Carrico in another suit.

Joe Kashi, the lawyer representing Carrico, said it’s possible the lawsuits could be consolidated.

The NTSB in its report said “there were no injuries to the 13 passengers or two crewmembers.” Carrico alleges she was injured and suffered emotional distress. She seeks compensatory damages in excess of $100,000.

After the crash in October 2013, one passenger, Shelley Gill of Homer, told the Homer News that the plane weaved back and forth on its belly “like a drunk driver.”

Gill praised the pilot for keeping the plane steady.

“You just wait for that wing tip to drop down when you’re skidding 100 mph on your belly and you’re done,” Gill said in 2013. “It didn’t happen. I don’t know if it was something she (the pilot) did, but if it was something she did, she ought to get a medal.”

The crash shredded the tips of the two carbon-composite props. The NTSB report said the crash caused substantial damage to the lower fuselage skin, stringers and frames.

The report does not name the captain or first officer, only identifying the captain as a 34-year-old person with 7,609 hours of flight time, including 739 hours in the Beech 1900, and the first officer as a 58-year-old man with 2,337 hours of flight time, with 383 on the Beech 1900. The report does not identify the sex of the captain, but passengers said the pilot was a woman.

“We never release names of folks involved in transportation accidents,” said Eric Weiss, an NTSB spokesperson at the Washington, D.C., office.

Because the crash involved a commercial airline, the crash was investigated by the D.C. office.

According to the report, the Beechcraft 1900 has a landing gear safety switch. When the right main landing gear strut is compressed it prevents “the landing gear handle from being raised when the airplane is on the ground,” the report said. The safety switch automatically disengages when the airplane is not on the ground. It also can be manually overridden by pressing a release button, the report said. NTSB investigators inspected the landing gear and the control safety switch and found nothing wrong with the equipment.

The report said that the landing gear had been lowered and the flaps selected to landing as the plane was on its final approach before landing.

What’s not clear in the report is how the first-officer was able to raise the landing gear if it had been lowered and the airplane touched down on the runway. That should engage the safety switch, also called a “squat” switch.

After the crash, Gill, the passenger, told the Homer News she felt the landing gear roll for a few seconds and then one wheel collapse and then another.

The NTSB report describes the safety switch as opening “the control circuit when the landing gear strut is compressed to prevent the landing gear handle from being raised when the airplane is on the ground.” The safety switch automatically disengages when the airplane is not on the ground and in flight.

Greg Stoddard, chief flight instructor for the University of Alaska Anchorage’s Aviation Technology Program, said that it’s possible “not enough of the weight of the airplane was on the ground in order to open that circuit where that action (attempting to raise the landing gear) would have resulted in anything.”

Stoddard emphasized that he had not read the NTSB report and was basing his speculation on a description of the report.

The Aviation Technology Program had a similar situation where a Cessna 172 crashed when the pilot intended to raise the flaps and instead raised the landing gear, Stoddard said. The program addressed that situation by setting a policy that in its planes flaps would not be adjusted while operating landing gear controls.

“A learning lesson to come out of this is you can’t trust a safety mechanism to work all the time,” Stoddard said.

During World War II, B-17 bomber pilots had a similar problem when they would raise the landing gear and not the flaps. According to “The Adolescence of Engineering Psychology,” by Stanley N. Roscoe, an Army psychologist, Lt. Alphonse Chapanis, addressed the problem by having mechanics put a rubber-tired wheel on the landing gear control and a wedge-shaped end to the flap controls.

Carrico’s lawsuit also alleges that ERA/Corvus failed in general to properly screen, evaluate, train and select pilots and that it crewed the flight with pilots who did not know how to perform proper landing procedures.

Several messages were left with Ravn Alaska’s corporate communications department on Thursday and Friday, but by late Friday afternoon they had not returned a call.

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael.armstrong@homernews.com.