Amazon Air Atlas Air Cargo Jet Crashes in Texas
February 23, 2019
- Atlas Air Flight 3591 crashed during its approach to George Bush International Airport, killing the three people on board.
- A timeline shows air traffic control advised the pilot of heavy rain before the aircraft suddenly descended, lost contact and, ultimately, crashed into Trinity Bay.
- The NTSB investigation is expected to gather maintenance and inspection records as well as review the crew’s employment and training to ensure that they had proper training and sufficient flight time in the 767.
- Investigations into the crash will also likely evaluate the schedules of the pilots to determine whether they may have been fatigued at the time of the crash.
Atlas Air Flight 3591, a Boeing 767-300BDSF operating for Amazon Air as a cargo plane, crashed on Saturday, February 23, 2019, on approach to its destination, George Bush International Airport in Houston, Texas.
The plane was operating a regularly scheduled flight from Miami to Houston when it suddenly plunged into Trinity Bay, near Anahuac, Texas, approximately 30 miles southeast of the airport. Three people on board were killed. Media reports indicate that one of the victims was not an employee of Atlas Air but a Mesa Airlines pilot who may have occupied the jump seat for the trip from Miami to Houston.
Reported Timeline of Events
10:33 a.m.: Plane departs Miami International Airport.
12:30 p.m.: Altitude at 18,000 feet, distance from IAH: 73 miles – the flight (callsign “Giant 3591”) contacts Houston Air Traffic Control (ATC) as they descend towards Houston. ATC gives Giant 3591 permission to descend to 6,000 feet.
12:36 p.m.: ATC clears Giant 3591 to descend to 3,000 feet; ATC advises Giant 3591 of light to heavy rain.
12:38 p.m.: Flightradar 24 reports that Giant 3591 descended from 6,525 feet to 3,025 in 30 seconds.
12:39 p.m.: ATC loses communication and radar contact with the plane.
12:45 p.m.: Distance from IAH: 30 miles; plane crashes into Trinity Bay (video recorded nearby shows the plane for approximately 5 seconds as it descends nose down toward water).
Possible Contributing Cause of Crash
Interaction between the crew and air traffic controllers noted the presence of rain on the aircraft’s flight path, which was heavy in some spots, and how to best get around it while avoiding departing planes.
“There’s a little bit of light, well, now it’s showing light to heavy precipitation just west of, it looks like, VAN, and it is moving eastbound, so once you get in closer, if we need to go vectors around it, we’ll be in route.”
One of the pilots told ATC they would aim to fly west of the heaviest rain. Controllers then warned him of departing planes headed that way.
“Oh, okay, then we’ll go on the east side, just go ahead and direct us,” one of the pilots responded.
Air Traffic Control
It is possible to bring a claim against the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) if there are allegations of negligence on the part of air traffic control related to the directions given to the pilots of Flight 3591.
The Boeing 767-375ER (MSN 25865/430) aircraft, registered N1217A, was manufactured in 1992. In 2017, Atlas Air acquired the aircraft and it was converted into a freighter and painted in Amazon Prime Air livery. According to FAA records, the airframe had accumulated more than 90,000 hours over 23,000 flights prior to its hull loss.
The aircraft was powered by two General Electric CF6-80 turbofan engines. The NTSB investigation is expected to gather maintenance and inspection records for the accident aircraft to ensure that the plane’s airframe and component parts were properly maintained throughout its lifespan.
The NTSB investigation will include a review of employment and training records for the crew to ensure that all were properly trained and maintained sufficient flight time and experience in the 767 in order to competently perform their respective duties aboard the accident aircraft, particularly in an emergency situation.
Labor Issues at Atlas Air
Business Insider reports that Atlas Air pilots have long claimed that their pay and benefits fall far below industry standards.
“It’s a ticking time bomb,” Captain Robert Kirchner, Atlas pilot and executive council chairman of Teamsters Local 1224, warned mere weeks before the crash.
Kirchner further alleged that the company, which contracts to Amazon, DHL and other carriers, tends to overwork their pilots.
“They don’t recognize pilot fatigue,” Kirchner previously told Business Insider. “They think it’s people goofing off. We have to constantly show them some of these schedules. Ninety-nine percent of the time, we’re able to prove to them that this is a fatiguing schedule.”
Investigations into the crash will likely evaluate the schedules of the accident pilots to determine whether they may have been fatigued at the time of the crash. Severe fatigue is known to cause errors in cognitive processing and delays in response time, which could prove fatal in an emergency situation requiring quick thinking and immediate reaction. Even the most highly-trained, experienced pilots can fall victim to the dangers of fatigue if they are overworked and not given proper rest periods during the course of their schedule.
Atlas Air, Inc., a wholly-owned subsidiary of Atlas Air Worldwide Holdings, is a cargo airline, passenger charter airline, and aircraft lessor based in Harrison, New York. In 2016, Atlas entered into an agreement with Amazon.com, Inc. to provide aircraft and crews for Prime Air. Atlas currently operates twenty Boeing 767-300 planes (in cargo configuration) under its contract with Prime Air. Forbes reports that Amazon maintains an equity stake in Atlas with an option to expand its ownership position to 30% by May 2021.
The fact that Atlas maintains its executive offices in New York means that, in addition to being subject to suit in Texas where the accident occurred, Atlas Air could also be sued in its home state of New York. Because Atlas likely makes most of its executive decisions related to the leasing of its aircraft and hiring and training of its pilots in its New York offices, Texas courts may determine that New York is the most convenient venue for any potential legal action stemming from the crash.
About Kreindler & Kreindler LLP
Kreindler is one of the largest and most distinguished aviation accident law firms in the world. Since 1950, our attorneys have served as lead counsel in nearly every major commercial aviation disaster litigation. Additionally, we have handled countless private, charter, military, general aviation and helicopter accident cases. Our partners have authored numerous highly acclaimed books, articles and treatises on aviation litigation, including the leading treatise in the field, Aviation Accident Law.
Kreindler has handled similar crashes involving other cargo air carriers such as UPS. Kreindler has also successfully handled many aviation crash cases where ATC negligence, particularly related to weather, was claimed against the FAA/United States.