Investigators of the private-jet crash that killed billionaire Lewis Katz discovered that the sports mogul’s personal pilots almost never performed the required pre-flight safety checks when shuttling their boss around the country.
There were only two occasions out of the last 176 trips of Katz’s Gulfstream IV in which the pilots bothered to fully test the flight controls before takeoffs, according to preliminary reports released Wednesday by the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board.
While the NTSB isn’t yet ready to assign definitive blame for the cause of the crash, the hundreds of pages of documents it released paint a picture of two pilots repeatedly failing to follow basic safety procedures. That includes on their final voyage May 31, which ended with the plane skidding off a Boston-area runway and bursting into flames, killing the pilots, a flight attendant, Katz and three other passengers.
The documents show that the aircraft made by Gulfstream, a unit of General Dynamics Corp., is also under scrutiny. The plane’s flight controls were locked during the takeoff and the company had designed its plane so that it should have been impossible to attempt a takeoff in that condition.
Testing whether a plane’s flight controls are working is one of the most elementary safety checks, with pilots making sure all their controls can move normally and completely before beginning every takeoff. Katz’s pilots had done so only about 1 percent of the time, according to the NTSB.
In addition to the two full tests of the flight controls, the pilots did partial checks 16 times out of 176 flights examined, the NTSB said. Those checks were logged by a computer that recorded flight data.
On the night of the May 31 crash, Katz’s group was delayed and the attempted departure from Bedford, Massachusetts, for Atlantic City, New Jersey, didn’t happen until 9:39 p.m. The pilots began to move the plane without unlocking the flight controls, including panels at the rear of the jet that lift the nose at takeoff, according to the NTSB.
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