The business jet flight that killed a White House official earlier this month violently pitched up and down after pilots addressed cockpit warnings by switching off a system meant to keep the aircraft stable, but it did not encounter turbulence as was initially reported, federal investigators have said.
Dana Hyde’s death on 3 March was the subject of a preliminary National Transportation Safety report Friday which described a series of mishaps before and after the Bombardier plane she was on swooped out of control.
The report stopped short of reaching any conclusions about what caused the accident that fatally injured Hyde, but it described how the Bombardier Challenger 300’s pilots followed a checklist and turned off a switch that “trims” – or adjusts the stabilizer on the plane’s tail – after several alerts confronted them in the cockpit. The crew and passengers were then exposed to forces that were about four times the force of gravity when the plane’s nose swept, pointed down and then turned up again before pilots could retake control, the safety board’s report said.
Though board officials had said the day after the accident that there was severe turbulence when the plane pitched, the pilots told investigators they had actually not encountered any turbulence, according to the report published Friday.
Friday’s report said that the pilots had to abort their initial takeoff because no one removed a plastic cover from an exterior tube that determines airspeed, and they took off with a rudder limiter fault alert on. Another alert warned those aboard about the autopilot stabilizer trim failure. The plane began its violent pitching as the pilots turned the stabilizer trim switch from primary to off while working through a checklist of procedures, the report added.
Hyde, 55, was flying from Keene, New Hampshire, to Leesburg, Virginia, with her husband, Jonathan Chambers, and one of her sons, who was visiting schools. The three passengers were reportedly thrown around as the plane convulsed.
It was unclear if Hyde had her seatbelt on or was moving around when that happened. But the two pilots diverted the plane – owned by the Kansas City-based rural broadband consulting firm Conexon, where Chambers is a partner – to Connecticut’s Bradley international airport, and Hyde was brought to a hospital where she was pronounced dead from blunt-force injuries.
No one else was injured.
A Federal Aviation Administration mandate last year had ordered pilots flying the twin-engine jet to conduct extra safety checks because of the plane’s trim system. The FAA handed down that mandate after multiple instances in which the horizontal stabilizer on Bombardier Challenger 300 jets caused the plane’s nose to turn down after pilots attempted making them climb.
In a statement to the Associated Press, Bombardier said it was “carefully studying” Friday’s report but otherwise didn’t respond directly to its contents. The Canadian jet manufacturer had maintained in a previous statement that its Challenger 300 jets were airworthy.
The two pilots in charge of the Challenger 300 where Hyde was mortally injured had a combined 13,000 hours of flying time and were rated to fly for airlines.
A former airline pilot who is now a safety consultant, John Cox, told the AP that there were “definitely issues” with the pilots’ pre-flight actions, but they reacted correctly by following the checklist after the trim failure.
Hyde lived in Cabin John, Maryland, which is a little more than 30 miles from Leesburg. Having grown up in rural eastern Oregon, she worked as a special assistant in the Bill Clinton White House and was then a senior adviser in the US state department during Barack Obama’s presidency.
She was also an associate director of the White House office of management and budget, an attorney who worked on the commission that investigated the deadly September 11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in New York City, and a co-chairperson for the Aspen Partnership for an Inclusive Economy. Her family planned to bury her in Israel, where she and Chambers worked before they developed an affinity for the country and its people, Hyde’s husband wrote in an email to Conexon associates after her death.
“Dana was the best person I ever knew,” Chambers wrote in the email. “She was a wonderful mother to our boys and she was accomplished professionally. She loved and was beloved.”
The Associated Press contributed reporting
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