What Would Cause the King Air to Drop From the Sky Near Coleman?
COLEMAN, TX — What appeared to be a routine flight in a Beechcraft King Air 200 out of Abilene Regional early this morning became a fatal crash killing three people.
According to the Texas DPS, there were no survivors on the flight where the flight plan manifest indicated three souls were onboard, including the pilot.
King Air 200, tail number N860J, departed to the south-southeast out of Abilene Regional Airport at promptly 5:40 a.m. on Thursday, Feb. 20, 2020. Just 23 minutes later, the flight path shows the King Air make a right turn back towards Abilene. Just after rolling out wings level pointed on a heading generally towards the departure airport, the flight path shows a sharp right-hand turn and what appears to be a rapid spiraling descent.
The plane crashed northwest of Lake Coleman in Coleman County. It took search and rescue until 10 a.m. the same morning to locate the wreckage. The Callahan County Sheriff's Office and other law enforcement agencies were aided by Cedar Ridge Aviation, a helicopter charter company that works primarily in the ranching industry. Helicopter pilot Garrett Durrett located the wreckage and guided authorities to it.
Above: The 1982 King Air 200 operated by TLC Air LLC out of Santa Fe, NM. (Flight Aware)
Finding the wreckage was difficult because of low ceilings. At 10 a.m., the ceilings around Coleman were at 3,300 above ground with winds on the ground gusting from 21 mph to 30 mph. These were not optimal conditions to operate a helicopter on a search and rescue mission.
When discovered, the crash site had no piece or part of a King Air that you could recognize. The aircraft hit the ground in a rapid decent, an apparent nose dive, and shattered into millions of pieces on the ranch land just northwest of Lake Coleman.
Air Traffic Control radio transmissions from the pilot offer a clue of what happened. He told ATC that he was having electrical problems and was turning around, and intended to fly back to Abilene for an emergency landing. Shortly thereafter, Air Traffic Control lost the aircraft on radar.
The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating. Here are some factors that the NTSB will be looking at:
There is an AIRMET for the region that warned of the freezing level from 2,000 MSL (sea level) to 12,000 MSL. Inside the freezing level, icing could have been present, especially in clouds, or Instrument Meteorological Conditions (IMC). Whatever the severity of the icing, from light rime to moderate mixed icing, which is historically what kind of ice is reported in this area under these weather conditions, the King Air 200 was likely equipped with anti-icing boots. But the anti-icing boots located on the leading edge of both wings require electrical power.
The flight path of the King Air flew right through the freezing conditions on its climb out of Abilene and it leveled off at 12,000 feet MSL. In darkness, pilots have difficulty seeing icing forming on the wing of the aircraft. And, likely because of darkness and the scarcity of flights at 5:40 a.m. in the Abilene area, there were no pilot reports of known icing that we found.
Sunrise in Abilene this morning was at 7:16 a.m.
Icing is found in clouds. The ceilings at Abilene and Coleman Municipal Airport this morning were overcast or broken at 3000 to 5000 feet. We do not have a report of where the top of the overcast layer was. There were no pilot reports we could find.
Moderate mixed icing means icing can accumulate rapidly and make the wings on a King Air fail to create lift. This could lead to a spiraling stall that the flight path appears to indicate.
Icing tends to dissipate in climbs and accumulate in straight and level flight and descents.
The NTSB will also be looking at what system on the King Air caused the electrical problem. The King Air 200 is equipped with two generators and a battery. Two switches inside the cockpit turn on the generators. If the generator switches are not turned on, the aircraft electrical system will continue to operate normally on battery power until the battery is exhausted. A discharging battery will fail electrical systems one-by-one until there is no power at all. The NTSB will attempt to determine the position of those generator switches. However, from looking at the debris field of this crash, it will be difficult.
The King Air 200 was operated by TLC Air LLC out of Santa Fe, New Mexico. Recent flights of the airplane show it was operating all over Texas the past several months. The names of those killed are being withheld pending notification of next-of-kin.
Joe Hyde is an instructor pilot who holds an Airline Transport Pilot certificate.
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