Fatal Pilatus PC-12 Crash Off the Coast of North Carolina
February 15, 2022
Kreindler aviation attorneys are closely following the February 24, 2023 fatal crash of a Pilatus PC-12 Medical Care Flight airplane near Reno, Nevada.
A Pilatus PC-12 airplane crashed off the coast of North Carolina about 18 miles northeast of Michael J. Smith Field Airport in Beaufort, NC on Sunday, February 13, 2022. Eight people were aboard the PC-12 aircraft - reportedly returning from a duck hunting trip in Hyde County, North Carolina.
The Coast Guard received a report of “a possible downed aircraft” from a Marine Corps air traffic controller who also communicated that the Pilatus had been observed flying erratically before it disappeared from radar. According to WYFF4 news an NBC affiliate in Greenville, South Carolina the Coast Guard located three separate debris fields, but the search for the fuselage is still underway.
The Pilatus PC-12 Aircraft
The Pilatus PC-12 is a single-engine turboprop aircraft designed for the civilian general aviation market. Pilatus is a Swiss company based in Stans, Switzerland, although the majority of the company’s PC-12 airplanes are ultimately sold in the United States. The specific Pilatus PC-12 involved in the tragic crash, registry number N79NX, was a fixed-wing private airplane with a single, turbo-prop P&W Canada PT6A-67P engine. It was manufactured in 2017 and was registered to EDP Management Group LLC in Wilmington, North Carolina.
In the Media
Possible Causes of the Accident
It is very early in the investigation into the cause of this tragedy. The National Transportation Safety (NTSB) is investigating the crash while the United States Coast Guard searches for the aircraft. At this point there are many “unknowns” about the circumstances of the crash. Until the aircraft is recovered and inspected, and the maintenance records examined - no potential cause can be ruled out.
Based on our experience as pilots and our case experience representing families following previous Pilatus PC-12 catastrophes, we have some initial thoughts.
Investigators will focus on the condition of the aircraft and whether any systems or components failed or contributed to loss of control of the aircraft. They will certainly examine the flight track and whether pilot error contributed to the crash. It is important to remember that most crashes involve multiple failures and factors that converge and cause catastrophe.
Aircraft System Failure/Fault
Investigators will likely start by examining the condition of the propeller and internal components of the turboprop engine to determine whether any conditions point to an engine failure of some kind. They will also focus on the condition of all flight critical aircraft systems, such as the fuel system, aircraft controls and electronic flight control systems. The Kreindler firm has represented families in other Pilatus PC-12 crashes that involved failures in both the fuel system and electrical system. Of particular note, the Pilatus PC-12’s stall and spin characteristics may have played a role in the aircraft’s descent and the pilot’s inability to regain control of the aircraft. The Pilatus PC-12 did not meet FAA stall/spin certification requirements. Initial testing showed that the PC-12 had hazardous spin/stall characteristics that did not meet certification requirements -discussed in more detail below.
Investigators will undoubtedly analyze local weather conditions at the time of the plane’s disappearance from radar. Preliminary weather information for the arrival airport indicate that winds were out of the north at 9 knots, there was 10 statute miles visibility, and it was overcast at 1,200 feet. The temperature was approximately 45 degrees Farenheit.
Restricted Air Space
Due to nearby military installations, there is restricted airspace near Michael J. Smith Field airport. Typically, access to restricted airspace is based on current military activity in the area and is only granted by permission. An air traffic controller from Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point in Havelock, NC was the first to report an aircraft behaving erratically on radar.
Investigators will study the flight track to help determine whether pilot error contributed to the crash. Even when there may be evidence of pilot error, it is rare not to discover multiple failures and factors that converged and caused the catastrophe.
While it is too early to tell specifically what caused this tragic crash, through the years there has been intense litigation against the Swiss manufacturer of this plane, and we have learned that it has several safety-critical design and system defects.
Our Previous Pilatus PC-12 Cases
Kreindler has represented families in previous Pilatus PC-12 crashes in which passengers lost their lives including:
- 2009 Pilatus PC-12 Plane Crash near Butte, Montana
- 2005 Pilatus PC-12 Plane Crash near Bellefonte, Pennsylvania
Both of the above Pilatus PC-12 cases involved defects in the fuel system. Our investigation and prosecution of the 2005 Bellefonte, PA crash revealed failures in the electrical system, which rendered the anti-stall stick-pusher inoperative. After an engine flameout the aircraft stalled and entered a deadly spin at low altitude when the stick-pusher failed to activate. In the 2009 Pilatus crash in Butte, Montana the aircraft experienced dangerous imbalance when the fuel system transferred all fuel on board to one wing tank, creating extreme lateral imbalance when a recurring low fuel pressure condition activated an electric fuel pump that repeatedly transferred fuel from one wing tank to the other over an extended period of flight. Most notably, the PC-12’s Caution and Warning System (CAWS) failed to warn the pilot of the low fuel pressure due to the way the CAWS software was programmed. In moments before the fatal crash, the pilot lost control due to the imbalance and the airplane stalled and crashed killing all 14 persons on board.
It’s notable that during litigation of the 2009 Butte, Montana case, Kreindler’s investigation identified numerous, critical failures of the fuel system, CAWS and Aircraft Flight Manual as contributing causes of the crash.
Known Issues with the Pilatus PC-12 Airplane
Over the years there has been intense litigation against Pilatus due to several critical design and system defects.
When the Pilatus PC-12 was initially certified it exhibited hazardous stall characteristics. In order to meet Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certification requirements, Pilatus proposed that the aircraft be equipped with what is called an anti-stall stick-pusher system as a means of preventing the PC-12 aircraft from stalling and entering a spin — a condition that creates a significant risk of loss of controlled flight. The stick-pusher is designed to warn pilots of impending stalls and automatically lowers the nose of the aircraft when stall conditions are detected to increase the lift produced by the wings and keep the plane flying. However, even though this addition to the design was certified by the FAA, the anti-stall stick-pusher system failed to perform as intended and did not change the hazardous aerodynamic characteristics of the airplane. The stick-pusher system has been the subject of two safety-related Airworthiness Directives issued by the FAA.
The PC-12 also has a history of problems in cold weather operations that affect the fuel system. In addition to being prone to icing, the Pilatus PC-12 has a deadly design flaw that does not indicate a low fuel pressure condition which can start a chain reaction that renders the aircraft uncontrollable resulting in a crash.
We will continue to monitor the information about this tragedy and update this post whenever possible.
About Kreindler & Kreindler
Kreindler is the preeminent aviation accident law firm in the world. Our attorneys have been appointed leading counsel in nearly every major commercial airline disaster case in the U.S. and abroad. Since 1950, we have fought diligently to achieve a record of success in resolving plane and helicopter crash cases on behalf of our clients. Kreindler has law offices in New York, Boston, and Los Angeles.
Photo Credit: Pilatus PC-12 airplane by Tomás Del Coro