The National Transportation Safety Board released their preliminary report on last month’s private jet crash that killed seven Brentwood community members.
The report shows that something may have begun to go wrong just one minute after takeoff from Smyrna Airport, having departed at 10:53:06 a.m. on Saturday, May 29, on its way to Palm Beach International Airport in Florida. The weather was overcast that day with visibility up to 10 miles.
That’s when, according to the report, a Nashville Departure Controller instructed the pilot to climb to 3,000 feet, and then instructed the pilot to make a turn, and received no acknowledgement from the pilot who had been communicating with the tower just seconds before.
“At 1054:46, the controller asked the pilot if he ‘copied’ the heading instruction,” the report reads. “The pilot responded about four seconds later and said, ‘130…Bravo Kilo.”
The controller then instructed the pilot to climb and maintain 15,000 feet Mean Sea Level (MSL), but there was no response from the pilot.
“The controller then made multiple attempts to re-establish communications with the airplane; however, there were no further communications,” the report reads. “A review of radar data revealed that after the pilot established contact with departure control the airplane made a series of heading changes along with several climbs and descents before it entered a steep, descending left turn.”
The last radar return, received by the tower at 10:55:05, indicated that the airplane was at an altitude of about 700 feet msl, and descending about 31,000 feet-per-minute on a 90 degree heading.
The report then cites an unidentified witness who was fishing on J. Percy Priest Lake around 150 feet west of the Fate Sanders Recreation Area boat ramp, who reported hearing what he thought was a low-flying military jet before he witnessed the Cessna 501 crash into the lake “in a ‘straight down’ nose first attitude.”
The report states that the witness did not see any evidence of fire or explosion, and the plane impacted an area of the lake that was only about two to eight feet deep.
First responders used underwater side sonar to locate and identify wreckage and victims, all of whom were members of Brentwood’s Remnant Fellowship Church.
Visibility was reported as “poor” due to deep mud and silt that makes up the lakebed, but recovery crews were able to retrieve about two-thirds of the aircraft, including both engines, the main cabin door, portions of the main cabin windows, the left nose baggage door, several fractured seat frames, some interior pieces, all three landing gear, most of the tail section and sections of both wings, including portions of plane’s flaps and ailerons.
The NTSB reports that there was no evidence of an in-flight fire, and the airplane was not outfitted with, or required to have, an flight data recorder or cockpit voice recorder.
The NTSB did not publicly identify the pilot, but said that he held a commercial pilot certificate with ratings for airplane single-engine land, multiengine land and instrument airplane.
He also held a private pilot certificate with a rating for rotorcraft-helicopter, and a type rating for the airplane with no restrictions.
The pilot was issued his most recent Federal Aviation Administration second-class medical certificate on Nov. 12, 2019, with the limitation that he was required to wear corrective lenses
The NTSB’s Initial review of the pilot’s logbook showed that he had about 1,680 total flight hours, 83 of which were in the plane that crashed.
The NTSB previously announced that the full investigation could take 18-24 months to complete, and the agency is retaining the recovered sections of the aircraft while they complete that investigation.