Aspen airport releases video of Jan. 5 jet crash

In response to a Colorado Open Records Act request from Aspen Journalism, the Aspen/Pitkin County airport has released video of the fatal jet crash that occurred on Sunday, Jan. 5, 2014.

The video was captured by five different cameras normally used by airport officials to monitor activity on the ramps, or aprons, outside the general aviation and commercial aviation terminals.

Together, the video feeds from the five infrared cameras show the jet's engines firing just before touching down, as if the pilot was trying to abort the landing at the last second. The plane then bounces hard off the runway, leaps into the air and comes in hard nose-first before bursting into flames. The video also shows a rescue vehicle quickly responding to the crash.

Of the three pilots on board N115WF, one was killed and two were injured. (See the latest update on their condition in the Aspen Daily News.)

On a typical day the feeds from the cameras help airport operators watch for conflicts between aircraft, vehicles and people, especially on the ramp where private planes come in to load and unload passengers.

The cameras send infrared images back to monitors, so heat appears as white light in the video. The video is in grainy black and white and the cameras are not pointed directly at the runway. There is no audio.

In the upper left-hand corner of the video from Camera 1, it appears as if the engines on the Challenger CL-600 jet were revved up just before it was about to touch down.

On the audio recording of the communication between the pilots of N115WF and the airport control tower, a voice can be heard saying as the plane comes in for its final approach, "Go around, go around."

The jet had a tailwind of at least 19 knots and the tower advised the pilots of gusts of up to 25 knots, according to a preliminary report issued on Jan. 17 by the National Transportation Safety Board.

The video from Camera 2 shows the plane skipping off the runway and arcing into the air with engines flaring.

Then, Camera 3 captures the plane coming down hard onto the runway, bursting into flames and continuing down the runway. Camera 3 also shows, within 45 seconds of the plane crashing, a vehicle moving toward the wreckage from an airport operations center on the right side of the runway.

Kirk Schoenthaler, an airport operations employee who responded to the crash, told The Aspen Times, “I saw a jet that didn’t look right. It was in a nose-high attitude close to the ground, then it went nose-down and quickly dropped towards the runway. As soon as I saw that, I knew I needed to start responding and headed towards my truck. I didn’t wait for anything else.”

Camera 4 shows the plane bursting into flames, people coming out of buildings on the left of the runway, and the wind blowing snow on the side of the runway.

Camera 5 shows the plane coming in, bouncing off the runway, and then coming down hard and bursting into flames.

Officials from the NTSB have the video feeds, according to Jim Elwood, airport director of the Aspen/Pitkin County airport.

"The crew executed a missed approach, and then requested to be vectored for a second attempt," the NTSB's preliminary report said. "On the second landing attempt N115WF briefly touched down on the runway, then bounced into the air and descended rapidly impacting with the ground at midfield."

That description is consistent with what can be seen in the video feeds.

Elwood said he felt it would be valuable for the NTSB investigators to study the video.

"I think it is important in analyzing what happened in the accident," Elwood said.

And while Elwood confirmed the video "is a matter of record," he was reluctant to see it made truly public.

"The unfortunate part of this video is that it does recognize a fatality," Elwood said. "That's always sad and we need to respect life. Unfortunately, a very sad thing happened at that point in time."

Elwood said it also may be difficult for people to understand what they are seeing in the video.

"The infrared is not the typical way that people see video and understand it," he said. "Everything looks very different and it takes a certain amount of visualization of what you are seeing to understand it. But, it is what it is."

Elwood did not know if the family of the three Mexican pilots aboard the aircraft had seen the video.

"We did place a call to the Mexican Consulate to advise them that we have released it to the media," Elwood said.

The video's existence was brought to Elwood's attention several days after the accident.

"We didn't know what was on them until someone had a chance to review them," Elwood said of the cameras and their recording systems.

At a press conference several hours after the crash, the airport's assistant aviation director, Brian Grefe, was asked, "Do you know if any airport cameras or surveillance cameras actually caught the crash in its entirety?"

"I have not heard," Grefe responded.

"Do you have cameras that watch that kind of thing?" another reporter asked.

"We have various cameras throughout the airport," Grefe said. "Specifically, where they were pointed at the time of the incident, I haven't reviewed yet."

The video's existence came to the attention of Aspen Journalism after a senior official with Pitkin County told a citizen they had seen footage from the airport of the crash.

After a formal open records request for the video was made by Aspen Journalism to Elwood, he promptly provided a copy of the video footage and sat down for an hour to discuss it.

The meeting took place several days before the NTSB's preliminary report was issued on Jan. 17.

After the report came out, Aspen Journalism took the video files to Grassroots TV, where a producer added title cards and put the five video streams into one video, with only minor edits to reduce the time when the plane could not be seen in the feeds provided by the airport.

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28 thoughts on “Aspen airport releases video of Jan. 5 jet crash

  1. The web site flight24.com shows this aircraft flew several circles around the airport before its missed approach, as if the pilot was having difficulty committing to the approach.

  2. “The unfortunate part of this video is that it does recognize a fatality,” Elwood said. “That’s always sad and we need to respect life. ”

    Yes, and there is no gruesome footage or anything else that would compromise the privacy of those involved or their families during this traumatic time. What is there is some valuable footage showing a bad mistake – a mistake any pilot might make. This video is a powerful learning tool for those of us who fly. Every time I see crash film I have two thoughts : “Oh, what a stupid thing to do” followed immediately by “I could see myself doing that exact same thing”. Truth is, flying is a high risk activity, and we all need to learn as much as we can and never grow complacent. As a low hour pilot I am well aware that I need to be extra careful. This video shows that even experienced pilots can get in trouble too. My condolences to all involved, and my commendation to the airport staff for emergency response and for releasing the video.

  3. Speculation is not helpful, but I can’t help but notice how it appears like a controlled go-around is in action when a sudden pitch down is initiated. It almost appears as if two separate people are trying for control.
    Bad crash.
    God bless those involved.

    • What you might see as 2 people fighting for controls can also be a strong tailwind gust that increases the velocity of the airplane and therefore the lift generated by the wings, creating the ”bounce” seen in the video. Thee nose down attitude might be a slight forward pressure to counteract the gust + a stall after the winds go down…

      As u said… speculation but as a pilot myself it’s what, I think, could be the cause..

  4. ABSOLUTELY no doubt in my mind that the crew was completely out of sync. The final pitch down was not just a stall but a very obvious push over most likely due to a serious crew conflict.
    One crewmember determined to go around and the other (over-zealously) forcing it back to the ground. I have no doubt the CVR analysis will bear this out.
    It is unreal how closely this mimics the Learjet crash at Aspen on Feb 13, 1991. In that case, the pilot flying made too tight a turn on a close in left base to final. The pilot not flying (my twin brother Al Yarmey) was yelling “No! No! You’re stall….” The stick pusher activated forcing all three occupants to their death. History does repeat itself. From a training standpoint, the concept of “a stabilized approach” MUST be understood and executed in a disciplined manner. As is the case in most accidents, this was truly avoidable.

  5. I am a retired Aviation Safety Inspector with 7 type ratings and 20000+ hours in the air
    Having flown into Aspen in all weather conditions I am convinced that this airport
    should be a VFR facility ONLY. Low time or pilots with little mountain flying experience
    need to not attempt landing there. Eagle airport a few miles away would be more suitable
    for this use. As a native of Colorado accidents in the mountains are to frequent and are
    usually attributed to pilot error. Even private pilots are taught not to attempt landings
    downwind with strong tailwinds. It is beyond belief that an experienced crew of Challenger
    thought that they could do this foolish maneuver. As a result it cost them their lives. Similar
    accidents like this are mainly due to the existing weather in that valley that has little room to maneuver but it is up to the pilot to use discretion before attempting any instrument approach
    despite the pressures that may come from uninformed passengers or owners.

  6. There were three pilots, two of them brothers and the other one was an instructor on the plane, the instructor and the captain survived but the brother copilot perished, it seems to me either the on the touchdown they hotted too hard and with full thrust on engines that it went flying again but they were knocked out on the super hard landing that couldn’t control the airplane any longer, or could be that one of the pilots initiated the go around while the other one tried to get it on the ground … go and guess what happened, is just very sad that one of the survivors is in a very bad shape at the moment.

  7. Agreed. Why would they try to land with such a serious tail wind? Obviously high touch down speed was due to this weather condition and as well amplified stall speed upon their attempt to recover. Sad.

    • Why did the try it – because other airplanes were successful in landing (although there were a number of missed approaches)

      Well before the airplane touches down there’s several changes in rate of descent indicating either a lot of windshear or pilot control input.

      On the prior attempt the reported a 38K speed increase on the descent as they descended. On the departure they would have passed through windshear which would have decreased airspeed . It’s pretty apparent that the aircraft stalls and rolls off before crashing

      Incredibly lucky that the airplane went off the right side and not the left side where a number of jets were waiting to depart.

      Listening to the tapes it sounds like the pilots were feeling the stress of the second approach and perhaps deteriorating conditions. It had also been a long day for them.

      The answer may be for Aspen to require an airport specific IFR checkout .

      My guess is that the final report will include
      weather
      approach flown with above allowable tailwind component
      crew coordination
      crew fatigue
      failure to initiate go around earlier
      failure to maintain speed on the missed approach

  8. Bob Yarmey: That nose over was much more likely a stall break or stick pusher than a fight between crew members. A last minute go-around in gusty tailwind conditions could easily put you into a stall.

    • Mcalisi, please be advised that I posess 5 bizjet type ratings 18,000+ total hours, operational experience into Aspen, have been an instructor and examiner in bizjets and have been and have researched and lectured on human factors in accidents for one of the leading training companies. I know well the workings of both the “stick shaker” and “stick pusher” and magnitude of the applied force. It is true that lacking specific access to CVR and FDR data, discussion is conjecture and that specific and accurate analysis is somewhat speculative and subject to considerable unknown variables. One thing is certain – that being the aircraft was operated outside definitive AFM limitations with the decision to make attempted landings not just once, but twice to runway 15. The final pitch over was extremely aggressive and “suggests” crew conflict may have added to “stick pusher activation” as well as a performance reducing wind gust. Please make note of my specific language. The NTSB investigators wisely makes no statements for the better part of a year as empirical and objective data is thoroughly evaluated. Anybody can play monday morning quarterback. I find it humorous to be able to easily identify self-proclaimed experts pontificating their premature conclusions and, in the process, display their ignorance and sometimes stupidity. I have merely advanced my hypothesis based on long and well established involvment in this profession. Thank God no passengers suffered this experience. Above all, prayers for the bereaved crewmembers. May the co-pilot RIP.

  9. We may speculate about what we see, but the flight recorder will eventually tell the story. Aspen normally lands south regardless of wind direction due to box canyon and upslope runway. I doubt that the crew was fighting for control of the aircraft – more likely they realized due to the high true airspeed (altitude) and tailwind combination that they couldn’t stop in time. They were not on the ground long enough to do a proper rejected landing (spool engines, retract flaps to takeoff and reach rotation speed). The nose of the aircraft is too high (panic) and as the aircraft leaves ground effect (flaps retracting) it stalls and the pusher kicks in. The aircraft is non recoverable. We must always be prepared to reject at ANY point in the landing (brief procedure as part of approach) and sadly this manoever is only practiced once or twice a year even for professional flight crews. I have 13,000 hrs, 4 type ratings, am a check airman and go to Aspen on a regular basis. Safe flying to all ….

  10. Any Challenger pilots out there thinking the PF touched down pulled out the TR’s and the NFP didn’t apply full forward pressure on the yoke (most likely due to panic and loss of situational awareness)? The Challenger will go airborne once TR’s are out if you don’t push forward on the yoke.
    Looks to me that they forced the A/C onto the R/W pulled TR’s and she went back airborne. Instinctly one or both pilots pushed full forward but it was to late.
    This, to a far less degree happened several years ago to a challenger conducting high speed taxi checks with maintenance who lost it when the plane went airborne. That aircraft was total loss.

  11. Dear Bob Yarmey,

    The Challenger has a stall pusher, this device push the control column with a force of 9psi in case the stall warning activates.

    best regards
    John.

  12. A mi me extrañó, este accidente porque los tres Pilotos, tenían bastante experiencia, porque ellos volaron para Mexicana de Aviación, desgraciadamente en la aviación ejecutiva, hay muchas personas intransigentes, que obligan al piloto a estar en situaciones de riesgo, ellos los dueños dicen, para eso tengo mi avión y si Ud. no puede aterrizar lo despido y ahí esta el verdadero problema, con tal de seguir volando, ellos mismos se ponen en situación de riesgo, cuando uno vuela en las compañías, le tienen prohibido aterrizar con viento de cola, sobre todo en aeropuertos de alto riesgo como ASPEN

  13. Hi my question is simple, why the approach control does not open the runway 33 for landing when the wind is pushing south direction ?

  14. Appears to me that after initial runway contact, either the pilots moved controls full forward or the installed stick pusher did.

  15. As a CFII of small General Aviation aircraft I may not be able to speak of the issues of the biz jet pilot, but the old say, “Fly the plane” comes to mind. Every plane has performance numbers that must be known to provide a stable approach in IFR and VFR conditions. If you get TAF, and at arrival the ATIS and the wind is going to increase your ground speed, increase your stopping distance you this should begin the hazard mitigation strategy which might be a “No go.”
    To “Fly the plane” we must all do the numbers. I can see myself getting boxed into a position like this. We must all recognize that we fly machines that are designed to operate according to physics and no matter how good a pilot you think you are, fly the numbers and you will mitigate risks.

  16. Há que se pesquisar a possibilidade da bequilha ter retraído logo após a corrida de pouso na pista. Com tal atitude, piloto e co-piloto devem, em ato reflexo, ter puxado o profundor exageradamente, para a velocidade que a aeronave tinha no momento, levando a arremetida com pitch elevado, perda de velocidade e stol, levando à atitude semelhante à manobra de perda, com a queda abrupta do nariz da aeronave e o choque com o solo.

  17. Thank you to the rated pilots with experience at ASE commenting here. Your candor and the careful wording is appreciated and informative.

    Does anyone else see what appears to be a complete gear collapse just before the aircraft becomes airborne in that bounce ?

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